$14M in COVID funds up for Buncombe grants Nov. 16

Buncombe County seal

Buncombe County’s largest spending spree to date from federal COVID-19 recovery funds is likely to be decided by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Nov. 16. According to a report by Rachael Nygaard, the county’s strategic partnerships director, more than $14 million in American Rescue Plan Act money is available for grants to nonprofits and county departments that are “anticipated to be approved” at the meeting.

The county is slated for roughly $51 million in ARPA money through 2022, of which more than $25 million has already been received. Buncombe leaders have thus far allocated $11.3 million from the funding pool, including $2 million for permanent supportive housing to serve the region’s homeless population and more than $9.3 million for broadband expansion, pandemic-related public health response and other projects.

No further details on the organizations that will get new funding or the amounts they could receive were linked to the board’s agenda as of press time. Over 125 nonprofits, community groups and governmental entities have pitched to the board in short presentations over the past several months.

While most of those pitches were delivered via three-minute Zoom talks, the commissioners invited three groups to present more extensively in person at a Nov. 2 briefing: Black Wall Street AVL, Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation and the Mountain Community Capital Fund. “These were proposals that the commission was interested in and wanted to take a little bit of a deeper dive on,” Board Chair Brownie Newman said prior to those presentations.

Some residents of Oakley in East Asheville are concerned that the board could contribute funding toward the purchase of a nearby Ramada Inn and its conversion into a low-barrier homeless shelter. The project, being spearheaded by the city of Asheville, has been delayed in part due to the neighborhood’s public safety concerns.

Extra $150K for property tax relief

Due to the popularity of a new county initiative designed to give low-income homeowners relief from rising taxes, the board will consider an additional $150,000 allocation to make sure more eligible residents can benefit. The extra money for the program would come from the county’s current fiscal reserves.

Commissioners established a $300,000 funding pool for the Homeowner Grant Program as part of the fiscal year 2021-22 budget. Homeowners who have owned their primary residence for at least five years and make no more than 80% of the area median income — $60,100 for a family of four — are eligible for county grants of up to $300 to offset this year’s increase in county property taxes.

As of Nov. 9, according to a presentation by county Economic Services Director Phillip Hardin, over 1,800 residents had applied for aid. Of those applicants, 468 had been approved, with 1,031 yet to be processed. The deadline to apply is Monday, Nov. 15; more information is available at this link.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Along with the routine approval of prior meeting minutes, the agenda includes the acceptance of over $21,000 in community grants and contributions to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. before the regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 metrics, an update to the county’s garbage collection contract with Waste Pro and other matters. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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