Buncombe broadens bulk solar plans

Buncombe County seal

As Buncombe County continues to install a roughly $10 million collection of solar panels on county facilities and area schools, the county’s Board of Commissioners is already looking toward the next phase of the renewable energy transition. At its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 5, the board will vote on two interlocal agreements that would expand the scope of upcoming solar work.

The agreements, to be signed with the town of Black Mountain and UNC Asheville, would allow those entities to combine their solar energy proposals with new county solar projects in a collaborative bid for installers. According to Jeremiah LeRoy, Buncombe’s sustainability officer, a bulk-buying approach leads to lower costs for all of the projects included in the bid.

Black Mountain plans to install solar panels on its Carver Community Center, while UNCA will outfit the Reuter Center. Buncombe will add systems to the East Asheville Library and Public Safety Firing Range. Each entity will pay for its own projects; no estimate of the potential costs or expected utilities savings were included in a presentation available prior to the meeting.

The presentation does note that the county is exploring another “large-scale aggregated solar project” to include installations at the Buncombe County Schools and A-B Tech. LeRoy estimates that more information on that project will come before the commissioners in six to eight months.

Commissioners to weigh in on school board elections

Although no documents were linked to the item as of press time, the board’s agenda includes “consideration of a resolution regarding the election of the county school board.” The planned discussion is likely a response to House Bill 400, a legislative proposal at the N.C. General Assembly.

As originally intended by Buncombe’s Democratic representatives in the state House — John Ager, Susan Fisher and Brian Turner — the bill would not have concerned the county schools at all. Its language would have converted the appointed five-person Asheville City Board of Education into a seven-member elected body, a change supported by Asheville City Council. But on Aug. 25, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards pushed through an amendment to HB400 that would also strengthen the district system for the Buncombe County Board of Education.

Under current law, all voters in the area served by Buncombe County Schools vote for all seven school board members, including one representative who lives in each of six districts and an at-large representative. Edwards’ proposal would keep the at-large seat but limit voting for district representatives to residents of their district.

“Given my efforts to get the city of Asheville to observe districted elections, it should come as no surprise that I support that elected officials should live in and be elected by the citizens of that district,” Edwards wrote in an Aug. 28 email to Xpress. “Even before I was elected, I began hearing from constituents that they believe district elections bring elected officials closer to their constituency, helping them be more accessible and understood. This type of election also draws more candidates, giving citizens more choices, and it helps citizens be more informed about those candidates.”

Commissioner Parker Sloan strongly disagreed in an Aug. 27 comment posted to the Asheville Politics Facebook group. “Like everything these godless bastards in Raleigh do, confusion and cruelty is the point. Eventually ballot and electoral confusion becomes too much of a barrier to simply educate our way out of,” Sloan wrote.

Library fines forgiveness, spending decisions 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:

  • Approval of a Buncombe County Public Libraries decision to write off over $104,000 in overdue fines. As part of the county’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget, the commissioners eliminated all new overdue fees, but existing fines impact nearly 13,000 library patrons.
  • A $194,500 contract with Greensboro-based CPL Architects for planning the reconfiguration of a county-owned building at 35 Woodfin St. The county aims to consolidate many of its public-facing functions in that building, including the Planning Department, Bureau of Identification and Tax Department, by moving Health and Human Services Department staff to 40 Coxe Ave.
  • A budget amendment accepting nearly $233,000 in state funding for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood. The money will be used for one-time unrestricted payments of up to $5,000 to young adults who are or were in foster care; a staff report notes that many of these adults did not benefit from federal COVID-19 relief payments.

The commissioners will also conduct interviews for potential members of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 5. A briefing will be held at 2:30 p.m. on the same day to discuss the county’s COVID-19 metrics and other matters. 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 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.

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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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