At what was probably the shortest Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting in recent memory, the commissioners unanimously approved an economic development project and a rezoning request and held a public hearing for the 2016 budget.
First, the month of June 2015 was declared Vulnerable Adults and Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and June 25 was declared Korean War Veterans Recognition Day.
Then Planning Director Jon Creighton gave a brief presentation on AvL Technologies and the company’s request for $301,047 in funding, an investment in the expansion of the company, creating at least 90 jobs.
AvL Technologies, formed in 1994, designs, develops and produces mobile satellite antenna and positioner systems. The company’s headquarters is located right here in Asheville, with regional offices in both the United Kingdom and China. The company hopes to expand its operations in Buncombe County, using the funding for property improvements, machinery and equipment — as well as the job creations, which on average, pay $40,000 per year. Creighton mentioned that the county’s investment would filter back into the economy in the millions: $3.6 million annual direct effect, $2.2 million in indirect effect, $1.3 million as an induced effect and $783 thousand in tax revenue.
Jim Oliver, founder of AvL Technologies, said that, so far, his company employs 163 individuals — but, with this investment, his goal is to nearly double that amount, creating 150 jobs.
“We’re lucky to have this industry in our community,” said Commissioner Holly Jones, thanking Oliver for picking Buncombe County for his facility.
Chair David Gantt added, “The 125 to 1 return on this investment is pretty strong. One of the biggest complaints we get all the time is that there are no good [manufacturing] jobs here, and you’re disproving that. And we appreciate that.”
The commissioners then unanimously approved the investment, 7-0.
A brief public hearing was held for a Swannanoa property, whose applicant requested the property change from residential to commercial. But after no one came forward to speak, the commissioners approved the request unanimously as well.
County Manager Wanda Greene then addressed the board, mentioning that sometime in the next two weeks, the budget will be finalized and ready for vote. Greene and other members of the staff are still working on incorporating funding requests, and once that’s complete, the board will vote to either approve or revisit the budget at the Tuesday, June 16 regular meeting.
A public hearing was held for the budget, during which several organizations made final requests for county funding.
Taylor Foss, board chair of the Asheville-Buncombe Economic Development Coalition, reminded the commissioners that 2015 marks the final year of the AVL 5×5 campaign. This 5 year strategic plan sought to generate 5,000 new jobs and $500 million in corporate investments in the Asheville area.
From 1994 to 2010, the average capital investment for projects per year was $37 million, but 2010-2015, after the implementation of the 5×5 campaign, investments have been around $200 million per year. Again, every $1 investment in economic development in Buncombe County, through this program, comes back into the economy as $125, she said.
Read the 5×5 investment report here.
Following the EDC’s presentation, former school board member Lisa Baldwin implored the county to build a new budget “from the ground up,” rather than just making a “carbon-copy” of the previous years’ budgets, and look first at funding for schools.
Don Yelton expressed his concern with the public’s lack of understanding of the budget: there needs to be an easily digested version of county spending so that everyone can understand where Buncombe is headed, he said.
After the public hearing, three board members — Mike Fryar, Joe Belcher and Miranda DeBruhl — put forth a resolution to request that the county seek expert advice before moving forward with the proposed indoor shooting range in Woodfin.
“All I’m asking is that the county … meet with the NRA and [N.C.] Wildlife [because they told us they’d] help in any way” concerning this firing range, Fryar said. “Right now we’re only 75 percent of what we need for [training] law enforcement officers.”
Commissioner Brownie Newman voiced his concern with returning to an old issue, as funding for the firing range was approved at the March 3 meeting, as part of a $141 million bundle. “Once we’ve made a decision, that’s the decision,” Newman said. “We can’t just bring stuff back up over and over again, when we don’t get what we want.”
Both Fryar and Belcher were bringing up the possibility of an outdoor range, rather than the indoor facility the county initially approved.
Commissioner Ellen Frost said she and Creighton have spoken with both the NRA and North Carolina Wildlife and Resources Commission on multiple occasions, and, from those discussions, it seems its a consensus that nobody wants an outdoor range — in part because noise would affect surrounding neighborhoods.
The request “is just simple,” Fryar rebutted. “It’s not trying to take anything away, just wondering if there’s a way we can make it better” by seeking advice.
Gantt put a stop to the argument, saying the resolution is just bringing up a topic that’s already been approved. There’s no way he can stop individual members of county staff from asking for advice, he said, but the issue is not one that requires any further discussion. The resolution was dismissed, and the board went into closed session.
The next Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 16, at 4:30 p.m., on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St.
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: