The ongoing debates over city and county budgets for the fiscal year 2010-2011 will soon come to a head across WNC.
This week's issue of Xpress offers a rundown of Asheville ("Give and Take") and Buncombe's ("Doing More with Less") budget proposals. Both governments are struggling to find ways to maintain services without raising taxes, even as revenues have fallen sharply due to the tough economic times.
According to the Smoky Mountain News, Jackson County is trying to navigate a similar predicament. The paper reports in "Jackson County Rides Out Budget Storm Unscathed," that even as he faced dropping revenues, County Manager Ken Westmoreland "drafted a budget that forces no cuts to services or staff."
Ahead of final votes on the proposals, Asheville City Council scheduled its public hearing for May 25, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will hear from the public on June 1, and the Jackson County Commissioners will take public comments on June 7.
The CTS nightmare continues
In other, more disturbing news, Xpress reports in this week's issue ("Feds Ineffective on CTS") that the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General issued a scathing report on the agency's response to contamination at the former CTS of Asheville site. According to Xpress' David Forbes, "The report asserts that while testing standards were followed, limited oversight, along with poor record-keeping and communication, harmed the effort and failed to communicate the hazards to the public."
The agency has long been a subject of harsh criticism from local residents and activists, who've accused it of incompetence and an unwillingness to deal with the full extent of the contamination. In response to the report, the office of the agency's acting director issued a statement saying it "will do everything within our authority to ensure the safety of the residents in the Mills Gap area."
Field trip to Pigeon Forge (and Buncombe pools)
The Daily Times reports in "Titanic Pigeon Forge Christened" that a new $30-million Titanic Museum recently opened in the town already famous for its kitschy attractions. Regis Philbin hosted the grand opening ceremonies, which drew 20,000 guests. According to the museum's Web site, the Titanic Museum Attraction is "a half-scale, permanent, three-deck recreation of the Titanic that houses nearly 400 artifacts that were carried from the ship as it sank."
While in town, visitors might also want to check out the new attractions at the nearby Splash Country water park at Dollywood. The Asheville Citizen-Times reports in "Lookin' Good at 25: Theme and Water Parks Roll Out New Features for Anniversary" that the park featured a new four-lane, 300-foot-long face-first water slide when it opened for the season on May 22. The park also offers a 25,000-square-foot wave pool and a variety of other slides, from the high-speed corkscrew funnels of Mountain Scream to the more laid-back float-ride of Little River Falls.
Don't want to drive to Pigeon Forge for a swim? Don't worry — Xpress reports that "Buncombe County's Public Outdoor Pools are Set to Open Soon." The pools will open May 29 for the summer season, offering residents an affordable way to cool off or take a swimming lesson.
The Bear beat
For more adventurous swimmers who may be planning trips to the rivers of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer, the message coming out of local media this week is, don't feed (or take close-up photos) of the bears. Asheville Citizen-Times' John Boyle has been on the bear beat, covering a recent incident in the Smokies in which a Connecticut tourist tried to take a close-up photo of a bear, which in turn bit his foot.
In his May 18 column, "Why Does the Bear Have to Die," Boyle asks why the bear should be punished for the tourist's foolish behavior. The incident also inspired a popular clemency movement on Facebook. Despite the online lobbying efforts, however, Boyle reports that, keeping with the park's policy, the bear (affectionately named "Laurel" by organizers of the Facebook page) was euthanized on May 20.
In more upbeat news, Xpress' Michael Muller reports in a May 19 online post, "Asheville Goodwill Worker Returns $5,365; Local Businesses Recognize her Honesty with Gifts" that Jocelyn Garnace, an employee of the Goodwill store in Asheville, recently found $5,365 and several pay stubs dating back to 1975 in a sock that had been donated to the store. Instead of keeping the money, however, she used the pay stubs to track down the donator and returned it.
According to Muller, several local businesses have stepped up to recognize Garnace's honesty, including Bouchon French Bistro, which will be giving her a free dinner.