Buncombe approves $388 million budget for 2016 fiscal year

Creative commons image by 401(K) 2012.

At the Tuesday, June 16, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners approved the $388 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year, an economic development incentive grant for Tyco Electronics Corporation and two connected rezoning requests — and they tabled a third rezoning request for the board’s next meeting in August.

Split votes on rezoning request delay

During pre-session, Chair David Gantt suggested that the vote on a controversial rezoning be tabled until the board’s next meeting in August to give the county more time to evaluate the request. Following a public comment period and formal congratulations to the Enka High School Sugar Jets on their state softball championship win, the board discussed the issues surrounding this dispute.

The applicants, John and Brenda Landgrover, submitted a request for their Pickens Lane property to change back from an R-1 single-family district to an R-2 multi-family district. The Landgrovers wrote in their request that a large group of properties, including their own, was rezoned from R-2 to R-1 while they were out of town in January 2015. Now, based on the Landgrovers’ absence at the earlier vote, the applicants say they wish to change their property back.

While Vice Chair Joe Belcher initially seemed for tabling the discussion during pre-session, he later changed his mind about the matter after giving it some thought. Commissioner Mike Fryar agreed, citing that this was an error on the county’s part, and the board should work quickly to correct this mistake. “When you make mistakes,” he said, “you try to correct them. You don’t put it off.”

Commissioner Ellen Frost, on the other hand, replied to Fryar’s comments with: “But, you see, that’s exactly why I think we should table it.” It’s unclear who is at fault here, she said, whether it’s the county failing to give notice to the property owners or the property owners simply not showing up for the public hearing. “I don’t feel good about voting when there are so many questions still out there.”

Gantt mentioned that, while he spoke to several people at length about the rezoning earlier in the day, he believes the county should seek some legal opinion before deciding. “Part of our job is to ask questions,” and to make an effort to find the best possible solution, coming to an informed decision, he said. Because these facts are not readily available at tonight’s meeting, he said he feels the commissioners should revisit this topic at a later date.

The decision to table the vote for the Pickens Lane property was approved 4-3, with Belcher, Fryar and Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl against.

Economic development and other public hearings

Planning Director Jon Creighton then gave a presentation on the $37,418 economic development incentive being considered for Tyco Electronics Corporation, a TE Connectivity Ltd. company. By investing in the company, which has been operating out of Fairview for the last 6o or so years, Tyco will create 40 new jobs, resulting in an economic impact of around $3.2 million annually back into Buncombe County — $1.6 million in direct effect, $823,153 in indirect effect, $559,233 in induced effects and $210,708 in tax revenue.

During public comment, Buncombe resident Betty Jackson asked: Why does Tyco need taxpayer money to expand? Can’t they expand without taxpayer money? And if they can’t, why should the county support them?

Gantt turned to Creighton for the answer: If we didn’t have the economic development incentive program, would Buncombe County have the same success in job creation its seen in recent years? Creighton answered, “Absolutely not. It’s a game,” he explained. “Everyone plays it, and you have to play the game aggressively” in order to secure a company, create jobs and get the economic return.

The investment was approved 7-0.

The next two public hearings, property requests for connected properties in Avery Creek, both passed with a 7-0 vote.

Buncombe’s budget and sales tax redistribution concerns

County Manager Wanda Greene began her presentation on the county’s budget, her 22nd budget to date, by noting that it’s always exciting when it’s time to adopt the budget for a new year.

She then explained that, while the general fund appears to have nearly $14 million less in spending than last year ($308 million compared to 2015’s $322 million), $22 million of the new budget goes toward refinancing. With that in mind, this year’s budget is really $8.7 million more expensive when it comes to the cost of ongoing operations.

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If the North Carolina sales tax bill passes as-is, Buncombe County may lose around $10 million in revenue by the year 2020.

Taking some time off of the budget, she reminded commissioners that, soon, the county will need to discuss the proposed North Carolina sales tax redistribution bill, which would greatly impact Buncombe County and other retail hubs around the state.

Referencing her slides, Greene explained that, “If you do the comparison, we start losing money in 2017.”

If the bill passes as-is, she said, the county would receive roughly $10 million less in sales tax revenue than what Buncombe would earn under current law by the year 2020. However, if an amendment is made to Article 43A of that bill, the county potentially would still be on track — though municipalities would still see sharp cuts. The extra revenue earned under 43A could only be spent on county education.

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However, if an amendment is made to Article 43A of that bill, the county would potentially still be on track for future budgets. Slides presented by Wanda Greene

Greene urged the commissioners to begin discussion on this bill and its impact no later than the end of the calendar year.

A loss of $10 million over the next 10 years is devastating, said Commissioner Brownie Newman. Bad options seem to be the only choice we have, he said. We just have to choose which option has the least chance of negative impact.

Six out of seven commissioners agreed that the budget is solid, though many admitted it’s not perfect for all of their individual goals for the county. Many praised the recent inclusion of extra education funds.

“At the end of the day, we have a moral obligation to make this community a better place,” Gantt said. “Education funds are up, what, $6 million? That’s the best investment we could possibly make,” giving residents a good education, which can turn into good jobs.

But Fryar admitted he still has concerns over education funds. Although he said he agrees with “about 90 percent” of the budget, he would much prefer the money being spent on nonprofits go toward county schools. Because of that, “I’ll probably be the only one voting against this budget,” he said.

The budget was then approved 6-1, with Fryar dissenting.

For a more complete look at what’s changed in the budget over the last month, click here. To see the budget in whole, take a look at the county’s spreadsheet and stay tuned to Xpress for a more complete analysis in the coming week.

For a play-by-play look at the entire Buncombe County Board of Commissioner’s meeting, in short 140-character bursts, here’s a text-speak account via Twitter:

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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