Buncombe beats revenue projections during COVID-19

Buncombe County seal

The numbers are in, and all things considered, they look pretty good. At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 20, members will review a quarterly financial report that shows county tax revenues from April through June — those collected during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — were stronger than budget staff had initially predicted.

At about $32.47 million, actual sales taxes through the end of the 2020 fiscal year were still down 3.2% from the budgeted target of more than $33.53 million. But during an April 7 budget work session, Budget Director Jennifer Barnette had projected sales tax revenue at just $30 million due to the impacts of the coronavirus, a decrease of more than 8.9%.

Property tax revenue was also stronger than expected, exceeding the fiscal 2020 budget projection of about $206.17 million by over $173,000. Barnette’s April presentation had anticipated a property tax shortfall of $1.6 million.

Because sales taxes are paid to the county by the state three months after their collection, explained Finance Director Don Warn in another report for the first quarter of fiscal 2021, it’s too early to tell how revenues have behaved from July through September. Buncombe’s budget for the current fiscal year anticipates a little more than $30 million in sales tax revenue, a 10.3% reduction from the 2020 budget.

In other news

Commissioners are also expected to approve more than $1.29 million to support affordable housing work throughout Buncombe County. That allocation reserves over $673,000 in the Affordable Housing Services Program budget for future projects but falls about $882,000 short of current eligible funding requests by the county’s nonprofit partners.

The largest award, a construction loan of over $484,000, will support 84 units of housing at Workforce Homestead’s Jasper Apartments in Swannanoa. The county has made two previous loans for the project since fiscal year 2018; if this year’s funding is approved, the county’s total investment to date will exceed $1.06 million.

Other notable allocations include $300,000 for emergency repairs to 40 housing units by Mountain Housing Opportunities and $156,000 to help 104 households with tenant-based rental assistance through Eblen Charities.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains nine items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • Writing off nearly $1.44 million in fines accrued by patrons of the Buncombe County Public Libraries between 1994 and 2017. According to a letter by Michael McCue, chair of the Buncombe County Library Board, fines older than three years are considered “uncollectible” and artificially inflate the system’s balance sheet.
  • Accepting an $84,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to support stream stabilization work on Hominy Creek. The project, located within 2 miles of Hominy Creek Park and the French Broad River, is expected to improve water quality in an area used for tubing and other aquatic recreation.
  • Approve an additional $5,458 to purchase three vehicles for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office DWI task force. The actual costs of the vehicles exceeded the $105,000 grant awarded for that purpose by the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m.; topics on the agenda include coronavirus relief funding, a Dogwood Health Trust grant for jail and prison re-entry programs and an update on the county’s elections operations. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

Public comment will only be permitted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails will be accepted. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, Oct. 19, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.

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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