The Solarize rate of $2.45 per watt of electricity generation is roughly 9% cheaper than the statewide average of $2.67 per watt listed by EnergySage, an industry website. The program, spearheaded by the nonprofit Blue Horizons Project, is able to offer the discount through bulk purchasing of solar equipment for Buncombe County residents.
Buncombe County’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget — passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners on June 15 — includes an effective property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 of valuation. It also includes $300,000 toward property tax relief grants.
At a June 10 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards said he had “come around to the way of thinking of the folks in the county” who want less of the tax to go toward tourism marketing.
The draft document lists six high-level goals for both county government and the broader community, such as providing racial equity education and communication, improving quality-of-life outcomes through racial equity initiatives and establishing Buncombe as an equity inclusion model.
“What is emerging is the idea that we’re now able to quantify what’s happening,” says Jennifer Harrison, agriculture and land resource director for Buncombe County, about the ability of farmers to combat climate change through practices like cover cropping and rotational grazing.
During a June 1 meeting, the county Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of agreement regarding the settlement of its litigation against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.
If the vote takes place as planned, it would mark the second consecutive year in which the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved the budget immediately after the public hearing. Last year, Chair Brownie Newman noted that the board has historically allowed some time between the hearing and the vote to consider resident input.
The potential closure and sale of the APS campus had drawn intense community pushback since being initially recommended as a cost-saving measure by Superintendent Gene Freeman on Dec. 7.
The TDA would spend at least $10.6 million on advertising buys, an 8% increase over its last pre-pandemic fiscal year. Just over $3 million would go toward the production of new content, with the remainder of the marketing budget spent on research.
Specifics on how the Asheville City Schools system spends its local allocation (at over $5,800 per student, the second-highest in North Carolina) and its plans to reduce costs have been hard to come by — and may have been concealed in violation of state open meetings law during a May 18 special closed session of the Asheville City Board of Education.
Projected capital investment costs for implementing the library plan total at least $81 million over the next 15 years, including nearly $18 million for a new 25,000-square-foot facility in Enka/Candler and over $16 million for a new building of the same size in West Asheville.
The 20,000-square-foot facility, to be operated by A-B Tech, would “provide a pipeline of skilled workers prior to the plant opening, helping to recruit qualified candidates and pre-train and post-train employees.” The funding would come from future county bonds that would be repaid through local sales tax revenues.
“I hope that one day in the future — 200, 500, 1,000 years from now — those generations can stand next to a 6- or 8-foot diameter chestnut tree in our mountains and be able to trace the story of that tree back to today,” said Joey Owle, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians secretary of agriculture and natural resources, in a press release announcing the agreement.
“The last three superintendents we’ve had here, including you, have not brought anything but mayhem to the school system,” declared Buncombe Commissioner Al Whitesides to Asheville City Schools Superintendent Gene Freeman.
Under current projections, even if the system taps into the entirety of its available reserves to cover expenses for fiscal year 2021-22, it would still face $865,000 in cuts to balance its budget. And if expenses and revenue trends continue on the same path, the necessary cuts for fiscal year 2022-23 could exceed $2 million.
For the median home in Buncombe County — worth $231,400 before revaluation and $291,000 now — the new rate would boost taxes by over 16%, from $1,224 to $1,423 per year. The percentage increase is greater than the roughly 14% rise commissioners approved in 2017.
The two rural areas in the county’s northwest and southeast emerged as the biggest pockets of need after an extensive analysis by county staff of high-speed internet availability. A contract with an internet provider to expand service could go before the Board of Commissioners in July.
County leaders say establishing the holiday, which commemorates the 1865 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by Union soldiers to enslaved people in Texas, is supported by the county’s Equity and Inclusion Workgroup and would “represent an authentic and more inclusive history of freedom in America.”
In July 2019, former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost was charged with 11 federal crimes related to her misappropriation of roughly $575,000 in county funds in 2015 and 2016. Without obtaining board approval, Frost partnered with former County Manager Wanda Greene to spend taxpayer money on sponsorships of three equestrian enterprises in the name of the Asheville Regional Airport.
At its first meeting since the March 23 appointments of James Carter, Jacquelyn Carr McHargue and Peyton O’Conner by Asheville City Council, the Asheville City Board of Education’s members chose Carter as chair and McHargue as vice chair in a pair of split decisions.
At its March 25 regular meeting, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board unanimously approved a projection that occupancy tax revenue would exceed $27 million for fiscal year 2021-22 — 15% more than projected for the current fiscal year, which ends in June, and 9% more than the year before the pandemic.