After a startling upward climb in passenger numbers at the Asheville Regional Airport — a 43% increase from 2018 to 2019, for an all-time record total of roughly 1.6 million — the airport has entered an equally unprecedented nosedive due to COVID-19. At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, June 16, airport leaders are scheduled to give an update on their handling of the crisis.
According to a presentation available before the meeting, the airport saw a near-total cessation of traffic for about 8 weeks during the initial wave of the pandemic. Data from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority shows that just 1,210 people boarded a plane at the airport in April, the latest month for which information is available. That number marks a 98% decrease from the 61,230 enplanements reported in April 2019.
Despite the plummeting passenger totals, airport officials have maintained service to all but three of AVL’s 21 pre-pandemic destinations: Boston, New York City and Vero Beach, Fla. The airport received over $14.4 million in federal coronavirus relief money, and its existing financial reserves could cover six months of operating expenses.
The presentation acknowledges that air traffic could take up to four years to recover fully. However, AVL’s leaders say they remain focused “on supporting airlines’ success when business begins to return and [building] back the strength of the airport for our region.”
In other news
While the city of Asheville has postponed the passage of its fiscal year 2020-21 budget, opting instead for an interim plan as officials consider community input on police spending, Buncombe leaders are moving ahead with a public hearing on the proposed county budget. As Xpress has previously reported, next year’s budget stands at nearly $335.65 million, a reduction of roughly 1.1% from the current fiscal year. Property taxes are proposed to remain flat at 52.9 cents per $100 of valuation, although residents living in the Upper Hominy fire district could see a 2-cent rate increase to pay for staffing needs.
Commissioners are likely to follow the city’s suit, however, in passing a resolution to remove local Confederate monuments and establish a joint task force to determine the fate of the Vance Monument. Asheville City Council unanimously approved the joint resolution on June 9; according to reporting by the Citizen Times, all four of the board’s Democratic members have said they will support the measure.
The board will also consider two substantial budget amendments for county capital projects. The first would devote nearly $836,000 for Rochester, N.Y.-based CPL Architecture to conduct a comprehensive facility plan for up to 2 million square feet of Buncombe buildings. The second would pay CPL $243,000 to design a new complex for the county’s fleet services, to be located at the site of the old Buncombe County Landfill in Woodfin.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A contract award of nearly $218,000 to Columbia, S.C.-based CGL Companies for a comprehensive needs assessment of the Buncombe County Detention Facility. The study would examine on- and off-site options for expanding the jail, as well as flexible options for the current space.
- Funding of over $73,000 to support the Asheville Rides Transit Leicester Highway Extension from July 1 through June 30, 2021. According to a staff report available before the meeting, COVID-19 has greatly impacted ridership on the route, with just 60 riders boarding at the four stops on the two-mile extension through the entire month of April.
- An application for $195,000 from the state education lottery capital fund to support the addition of three classrooms at Estes Elementary. The new space would allow reductions in K-3 class sizes.
The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m., during which members will review the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, the county’s fee schedule for the next fiscal year and a $382,000 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust for paramedics trained in opioid response. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
For the first time since March 17, members of the public will be allowed to attend the 5 p.m. regular meeting in person at 200 College St. The board will accept public comment during the budget hearing and “may allow interested persons to make public comment on other agenda items.” All comment will be conducted in accordance with local declarations regarding COVID-19 and mass gatherings.
The meetings will be also livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Comment by electronic means (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, June 15, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.