A bill that would’ve originally allowed Buncombe County and its cities to consolidate parks and recreation departments was revised June 26 in the N.C. Senate to exclude municipalities completely.
Pushed by Rep. Nathan Ramsey in the Statehouse, the original version of the bill was met with initial enthusiasm from several members of both the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council, who saw it as a way save costs, consolidate services and more fairly pay for regional assets. It passed the N.C. House May 6 with strong bipartisan support.
The city of Asheville estimated that its participation in a new Cultural and Recreation Authority (CRA) would save it up to $5 million a year. However, as language evolved in the Senate to exclude municipality participation, some members of Asheville City Council have accused legislators of using the bill as a bargaining chip in legal negotiations over a measure that would hand control of its water system to the Metropolitan Sewage District without compensation. Ramsey has denied that charge.
The idea of consolidating county and city parks and recreation departments was first discussed almost 10 years ago as a way to compensate Asheville for joining a regional water authority.
Amid behind-the-scenes negotiations last week between county commissioners, Ramsey, and Rep. Tim Moffitt, the Senate revised the bill to prevent cities from joining the authority for two years. The idea, says Commissioner David King, who pushed for the change, was to allow the county to work out the kinks in the new agency before inviting cities to join.
But the version approved by the Senate Finance Committee June 26 excludes cities from participating in any new authority at all. That evening, commissioners decided to delay voting on the county budget until June 28 in hopes that the General Assembly will make a final decision on the CRA.
The current budget proposal relies on the state passing the bill in order to empower the county to be able to levy a special tax and dedicate the revenue to a long list of projects. However, it’s unclear how the latest draft of the bill might impact the county’s plans.
The next fiscal year begins July 1, and commissioners are required by state law to pass a budget before that date.