While county relief has heretofore been available only in the form of low-interest loans, businesses will now be able to seek grants of $5,000 to hire or rehire employees at a living wage. Staff had previously believed such a grant program to be illegal but had since received updated guidance from the UNC School of Government.
COVID-19 vaccination initiatives announced by the county include a drive-thru site for second doses at A. C. Reynolds High School and a waitlist for first-dose vaccination appointments. The waitlist will replace a system that requires residents to schedule appointments directly as vaccines became available.
The state grant for Buncombe’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, funded as part of the first federal COVID-19 relief package, will be considered at the Tuesday, Jan. 19, meeting of the county Board of Commissioners.
The $600 checks represent the first federal assistance many in WNC have received to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic since the first coronavirus relief package was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.
The Asheville-based nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s work included both valuable wildlife habitats, such as the Wiles Creek and Little Rock Creek preserves, and prime farmland at risk of development. Sandy Hollar Farms in Buncombe County and Bowditch Bottoms in Yancey County were among the agricultural projects completed in 2020.
“We recognize that it’s not a perfect system and the demand is quite high,” said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s public health director, at a Jan. 12 special meeting called to address local vaccination efforts. “We just want to reiterate that we will not have sufficient supply of vaccine for a very long time, so it is likely that we will still hear frustration and concerns about being able to get an appointment.”
Of the 1,675 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Buncombe County had been allotted by North Carolina state officials through Dec. 28, the county had given just over 1,000 doses through Jan. 4. Only health care workers, first responders and long-term care facility residents will be able to receive the shot until Monday, Jan. 11.
As 2021 dawns, the glow of the holiday season fades and social distancing continues in cluttered homes, many will make resolutions to clean up their space. Here’s a look at the area’s more environmentally friendly ways to handle unwanted items.
Madison Cawthorn, Western North Carolina’s congressional representative, was among the more than 50 representatives and eight senators, all Republicans, who issued a formal challenge Jan. 6 to certifying the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump. Shortly after that action, a rioting crowd of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol.
Nearly $118,000 from the Dogwood Health Trust will hire a program manager as part of a previously funded community paramedic team. And $900,000 in federal funds will support housing and utility payments for county residents who have lost income due to COVID-19.
In a year marked by a constant churn of updating numbers — COVID-19 dashboards, economic forecasts, political polls — Assistant Editor Daniel Walton took comfort in stories that were able to report more deeply on some of the issues facing Western North Carolina.
For many environmental organizations across Western North Carolina, COVID-19 fell like a lightning-struck tree across the path to progress. But like an intrepid hiker, WNC’s activists and organizers have bushwhacked new trails for action in the world of the pandemic.
Xpress Assistant Editor Daniel Walton and local community figures discuss how the year’s events have accelerated many of the issues that were already facing Western North Carolina.
Buncombe County logged $53 million in room sales for October, the latest month for which data is available. The figure represents a 6% increase over the $50 million in sales for the same month in 2019 — and an all-time monthly record.
If the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners were to maintain the property tax rate at 52.9 cents per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2021-22, noted Buncombe budget analyst Rusty Mau, the county would see about $237 million in property tax revenue, up nearly 12% from the $212 million budgeted for 2020-21.
On Nov. 18, nonprofit Conserving Carolina announced that it had entered a contract to buy an unused 19-mile rail corridor between Brevard and Hendersonville for conversion into a greenway. Backers hope the Ecusta Trail will become a regional draw for running and biking enthusiasts.
Because the monument stands on city property, Asheville City Council will have the ultimate say; Council is expected to take that vote at its regular meeting on Dec. 8.
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman lists land use policy as a top priority for the new commission, sworn in on Dec. 7. Board members will likely revisit the county’s land use plan, a document originally developed in 1998 and last updated in 2013, in response to rapid community growth.
On Monday, Dec. 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will decide whether to accept the recommendation of the Vance Monument Task Force, a body jointly appointed by the county and city of Asheville, to take down the downtown obelisk that memorializes Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance.
Chief among the issues facing the General Assembly next year, said Sen. Chuck Edwards, would be balancing the state’s next budget to reflect pandemic-driven downturns in revenue. He estimated that the shortfall compared to current spending levels could be as much as $8 billion.
While overall hotel revenue was down more than 27% year-over-year in September, the latest month for which data is available, overall vacation rental sales that month increased by about 55% year-over-year, according to Explore Asheville interim CEO Chris Cavanaugh.