Building momentum

One more year: In addition to raising the sales-tax, commissioners appointed Bill Stanley to another one-year term as vice chair. He announced he will retire in 2012, which will mark his 24th year on the board. photo by Margaret Hester
One more year: In addition to raising the sales-tax, commissioners appointed Bill Stanley to another one-year term as vice chair. He announced he will retire in 2012, which will mark his 24th year on the board. photo by Margaret Hester

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Dec. 6, 2011 meeting

  • Board supports conservation easements
  • Camp House designated local historic landmark

a href=”“After nearly a year of contentious debate on the issue, the Buncombe County commissioners unanimously voted Dec. 6 to levy a quarter-cent sales-tax increase. Narrowly approved by voters last month, the increase is earmarked for capital improvements at A-B Tech.

During the run up to the Nov. 8 referendum, supporters said the revenue would help the community college serve a rapidly rising enrollment and provide much-needed job training.  Critics said the tax would hurt an already weak economy, taking money out of people’s pockets precisely when they need it most.

Voters endorsed the measure by a mere 503 votes out of the more than 32,000 cast.

During the Dec. 6 meeting, A-B Tech President Hank Dunn thanked the commissioners for their support.

"I appreciate the fact that you allowed us to come before the voters and put this on the ballot,” said Dunn. “I know that came at great personal risk and great pressure from the electorate out there. But as statesmen often do, you did what needed to be done, not what was politically expedient.”

Voters approved it, he maintained, because "I think they see us as an institution dedicated to helping the county, to changing students’ lives, and to working to help small-, medium- and big-sized businesses grow their bottom lines. We're here in difficult economic times to help grow the economy in any way we can.

“Upon your approval of this resolution this afternoon,” continued Dunn, “it will be a transformational effort for A-B Tech."

At the urging of board Chair David Gantt, County Attorney Michael Frue detailed the resolution’s legalities and financial details. Alluding to critics who’d asserted before the vote that the money might not, in fact, be spent on A-B Tech, Frue said: "The statute that governs this process is short and sweet, but we know that this process, as it's unfolded, has been anything but."

To pay for the improvements, he explained, the county will issue certificates of participation that will gradually be paid off by the tax revenues. And the resolution’s wording, he continued, stipulates that no other source of income (such as property-tax revenues) can be used to pay off the certificates. If a future Board of Commissioners tried to do so or defaulted on the debt, asserted Frue, it "would wreck our bond rating and credit, which is currently at the highest rating."

County Finance Director Donna Clark concurred, saying the state treasurer could force the county to pay the debt once the certificates are issued.

Before making a motion to approve the resolution, Vice Chair Bill Stanley read a portion of it aloud.

"Contrary to some beliefs," noted Stanley, "the board 'expressed its intent that this sales-and-use tax sunset in 2029 and be used exclusively for the stated capital-improvement needs of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.' Period."

Effective April 1, the sales tax on most purchases in the county will rise from 6.75 percent to 7 percent, generating a projected $6 million to $7 million a year. In the next eight to 10 months, said Dunn, the school plans to break ground on two major capital projects: a $55 million Allied Health and Workforce Development Building and a $5 million facility housing programs for law-enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency-management workers.

Members of the public weren't given a chance to speak before the vote. But later, during the general public-comment period, Leicester resident Peggy Bennett urged the school and county officials to hire local contractors and construction workers whenever possible. Fairview resident Mike Fryar went further. Citing the referendum’s close results, the Republican candidate for commissioner urged the board to upend the measure, asserting, "This needs to be reversed.”

Other business

In other action, the board:
• Unanimously voted to accept the annual financial report for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Staff emphasized that the county has a AAA credit rating and the highest possible bond rating.
• Unanimously agreed to cover $41,000 in transaction costs for conservation easements that will preserve 120 acres in Upper Hominy and 35.5 acres in Sandy Mush. • Unanimously reappointed Stanley as the board’s vice chair, his fourth one-year term. The position is largely symbolic, but the vice chair runs the meetings when the board chair is absent. After 23 years as a Buncombe County commissioner, Stanley recently said he’ll retire when his term expires next year (see sidebar, “Stepping Down”).
• Denied a request to rezone an 8.58 acre parcel at 101 Farida Drive in Weaverville that would have allowed for more development. The Planning Board had recommended denying the request, saying it wasn’t consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Stanley cast the lone vote to grant the request.
• Unanimously approved designating the William Nelson Camp Jr. House at 92 Flat Top Mountain Road in Fairview as a local historic landmark.
• Unanimously approved a resolution urging the U.S. Postal Service to continue operating the Brevard Road mail-processing facility and maintain its current level of service. The Postal Service is considering closing the facility and scaling back first-class mail service as part of a nationwide cost-cutting initiative.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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