A recent evaluation revealed almost $25 million in deferred building maintenance needs at A-B Tech. That state of affairs, said college President Dennis King during a meeting of the A-B Tech board of trustees on Feb. 7, is the result of a lack of funding from Buncombe County.
The funding shortfall occurred despite the passage of a 2011 referendum that increased county sales tax by a quarter-cent to pay for capital projects at the college. Instead, much of the money has gone to other county funding needs.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, interim County Manager George Wood proposed an eight-year compromise plan that would:
- Budget $3.125 million in Article 46 sales tax revenue annually for campus maintenance beginning in fiscal year 2020 and increasing 5.5 percent per year to account for inflation. This funding would cover the cost of clearing the college’s maintenance backlog, Wood said.
- Limit county transfers of Article 46 revenue to its general fund to no more than $5 million in any fiscal year.
- Earmark any Article 46 tax revenue transferred to the general fund for offsetting A-B Tech operating costs. Last year, the county transferred $6.5 million in Article 46 sales tax revenue to its general fund to pay for college operations.
- Commit the county to pay for any new construction agreed to by both the A-B Tech board and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
- Maintain a minimum $2 million Article 46 Sales Tax Fund balance to cover any college maintenance emergencies.
Trustees approved the proposal in a 9-4 vote and added a provision stipulating that any funds generated above expenditures would go to the Article 46 fund balance. That money, with the exception of the $2 million reserved for emergencies, could only be used for A-B Tech capital needs for the term of the agreement.
County Attorney Michael Frue suggested that trustees and commissioners seek support from local state representatives to pass state legislation formalizing the agreement, which also still needs approval by the Board of Commissioners.
If both boards jointly enter into a memorandum of understanding outlining their wishes for the Article 46 revenue, “There is a good chance that the local delegation will back such legislation,” Frue said.
Trustee Matt Kern, who voted against the proposal, said the plan still leaves millions of dollars in county coffers. “It perplexes me that only in government do you take somebody’s money and then offer them a compromise to give part of it back to them,” he said. “That seems to be what’s going on here.”
Kern said money from the quarter-cent sales tax was never intended to pay for college operations.
“When [Wood] guarantees us $5 million for operations from the sales tax money that’s supposed to go for capital, I think that stinks,” Kern said. “And what it stinks of is the county commission is balancing their budget on the backs of A-B Tech.”
In an email after the vote, Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman wrote that he shares concerns expressed by trustees who voted against the proposal.
Voters were told that $129 million in sales tax proceeds would be invested in capital needs at A-B Tech, Newman wrote. While over $80 million has been spent, and Wood’s proposal would lead to an additional $29 million investment, that still falls short of what voters were guaranteed, he added.
“I am hoping the commission may be open to strengthening the plan to guarantee this investment level is achieved within the next eight to 10 years,” he said. “I believe some other commissioners share this concern.”