On June 7, Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners heard a dozen county school system employees make emotional pleas for higher pay in light of ever-higher costs of living. Those voices don’t appear to have altered the budget the board will now vote on approving Tuesday, June 21.
The final fiscal year 2022-2023 budget ordinance, which includes over $398 million in general fund spending, calls for the same $81.9 million allocation to Buncombe County Schools proposed June 7. That amount represents a nearly 12% increase over last year’s allocation and would increase all BCS salaries by 2.5% or to at least $15/hour, whichever is higher. However, it omits nearly $8.1 million in cost-of-living pay increases recommended by HIL Consultants and requested by BCS; the county instead seeks to spread those increases out over two fiscal years starting in fiscal year 2023-24.
The budget also proposes the creation of 63 new county government positions, raising Buncombe’s total employment count to more than 1,800. Many of those new workers would support the county’s emergency response, including eight new paramedics and four 911 operators.
The proposed budget continues last year’s tax rate of 48.8 cents per $100 in property value. Property tax is the primary revenue generator for the county and is projected to bring in over $240.3 million this year.
In other news
As part of budget adoption, the commissioners will consider revisions to the Homeowner Grant Program for the coming fiscal year. Last year, the program distributed nearly $480,000 in property tax relief to over 1,200 households. However, the program also spent over $200,000 in administrative costs and gave funds to at least 518 recipients with cash reserves above $5,000.
The new rules are designed to reduce overhead and target support more specifically to lower-wealth residents. Residents with “liquid financial resources” of more than $5,000 would no longer be eligible, nor would those who own multiple properties with dwellings on them. Mobile home owners, however, would be newly eligible. The county would create an “enhanced online screening process” for the grants that it claims will cut administrative costs.
Commissioners will also hear an update on the Pack Square Visioning Plan by Katherine Calhoun Cutshall. On June 14, Asheville City Council approved entering a contract with McAdams Company, the firm selected to lead the square’s revisioning process. McAdams is slated to begin working with both city and county staff, as well as other community stakeholders, this summer. The board will hear proposed next steps in the process and hold a discussion.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 11 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. That agenda includes the following highlights:
- A budget amendment to spend over $67,000 in additional capital funds on broadband projects in county parks. The work will expand outdoor wireless internet infrastructure at Lake Julian, Owen Park and the Buncombe County Sports Park.
- A budget amendment accepting an extension of a nearly $1.4 million grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission. The amendment gives county Health and Human Services three additional months to spend the money, which provides intensive support and trauma services for families involved with Child Protective Services.
- A reimbursement agreement authorizing the county to pay for up to $12,500 of an estimated $25,000 for an attenuation light at 1561 Alexander Road. The sensor-activated “flasher type” light system would be installed at the shared drive of the new Leicester Volunteer Fire Department, which will cover the rest of the cost, and Leicester Public Library to trigger warning lights in both directions when vehicles prepare to exit the drive.
The commissioners’ regularly scheduled 3 p.m.briefing has been canceled. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.