Buncombe budget hikes taxes, funds rebate program

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting 6-15-21
FULL HOUSE: A capacity crowd of Buncombe County staff and residents awaits the Board of Commissioners' vote on the county's fiscal year 2021-22 budget. Photo by Daniel Walton

As the Buncombe County Tax Department taketh away, so may the county’s Health and Human Services giveth. That was the gist of the proposal for property tax relief that Phillip Hardin, Buncombe’s economic services director, outlined during a June 15 briefing to the county Board of Commissioners.

Buncombe’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget — passed unanimously by the board at its regular meeting later that day — includes an effective property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 of valuation. For the median home in the county, that equates to a rise of about 16%.

However, many modest homes saw higher percentage increases in value than did more expensive properties during the county’s recently completed revaluation. Commissioners had expressed concerns that low-income residents would thus bear a disproportionate share of the tax hike and asked staff to explore how that burden might be reduced.

In the program as described by Hardin, homeowning households making up to 80% of the area median income ($60,100 for a family of four) could apply for county assistance. The grants would cover increases in tax bills from 2020 to 2021 — but only up to $1,000 total and only for Buncombe County and city of Asheville taxes. Tax hikes for other municipalities, Asheville City Schools and volunteer fire districts would remain the homeowner’s responsibility.

Jennifer Pike, the county’s tax collector, said that the grants would be significantly more generous than existing property tax relief programs. Those exemptions are limited to residents who are over age 65, disabled or veterans, and have lower income thresholds.

Buncombe’s budget includes $300,000 for the grant program, for which Hardin said residents could apply on a first-come, first-served basis once tax bills are sent in August. But board Chair Brownie Newman encouraged staff to think about simpler or automatic approaches to providing aid, suggesting that the application process might prove a barrier to those most in need.

“We know from some of the other communities that are doing this that they’ve had trouble really getting participation,” Newman said. “Our intention is to create a program that would be widely utilized by the residents of our county who would meet the criteria.”

Feedback on the proposal can be submitted through Friday, June 25, to prteam@buncombecounty.org.

County ends COVID-19 emergency

More than 15 months after Buncombe declared a local state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, 2020, commissioners unanimously approved a resolution declaring the emergency’s end on June 15. Stacie Saunders, the county’s public health director, delivered her last formal COVID-19 briefing earlier that day.

“Due to the success of masking, social distancing precautions and COVID-19 vaccination efforts, we have seen a decline in COVID-19 cases in Buncombe County,” said Angela Ledford, a planner with Buncombe’s emergency management team. As of June 15, the county was seeing just 15 cases per 100,000 residents per week, with a test positivity rate of 1.2%.

While Ledford emphasized that the pandemic is not over, especially for those who remain unvaccinated, she said the county no longer needs its emergency operations center to coordinate a response. She also noted that Buncombe’s COVID-19 vaccine operation will move to the county’s Health and Human Services building at 40 Coxe Ave. on Wednesday, June 23.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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4 thoughts on “Buncombe budget hikes taxes, funds rebate program

  1. indy499

    No commissioner who voted for an average 16% tax increase should ever again talk about affordability in Buncombe county. Hypocrits!

    I assume someone will sue them for the rebate program.

  2. luther blissett

    “Buncombe’s budget includes $300,000 for the grant program, for which Hardin said residents could apply on a first-come, first-served basis once tax bills are sent in August. ”

    Oh, well, that’s fine. You just have to know about the program, know when and how to apply, complete the paperwork and provide evidence of your income, and then just hope that it hasn’t run out of funds. It makes the Duke solar rebates look easy.

    The county commissioners saw the overall numbers from the reassessment — which took place in a pandemic real estate bubble and should have been postponed until the dust settled on both property prices and the overall economic climate. They started popping the champagne without having the basic understanding that it would disproportionately affect people with less valuable homes. They had the option to set the rate to be revenue-neutral for a year and draw on a small part of their federal relief funds. They got greedy. It’s that simple.

    (The dog that didn’t bark in Tuesday’s meeting? The occupancy tax rate. The county commission is now complicit in the TDA’s spending for the next fiscal year.)

    • Mike R.

      I believe that the reassessment was not completed during any price runup due to COVID. That said, the reassessment was moved up from the required 8 year (I think) because house prices had risen much over the past 3 years. By reassessing, the tax burden is spread more fairly to everyone that has had their property value rise during the period. Even a revenue neutral tax rate would not have stopped those folks from seeing higher property taxes.

      All that said, local governments continue to raise property taxes to both pay for existing services (that have risen in cost due to inflation) and for new or expanded services. There are of course, many things that the city and county do that could be cut back or even eliminated. They aren’t the major part of the budget (fire, police, social services), but reduction could help reduce tax increases.

      Where this all ends is anyone’s guess, but I do not feel I get anywhere near the 6K in property tax we pay returned in basic services. Most times I have to go begging the city to do things around our neighborhood that most cities would handle proactively. And crime around Asheville is much too high but our city leaders don’t seem to be interested in restaffing the police department with any urgency.

  3. indy499

    Commissioners are clueless. They use folks’ confusion between assessment and rate to obfuscate that the average tax bill is going up 16%. In ONE year. Can you imagine a department in a company lobbying for a 16% budget increase? Your exit would be part of the solution.

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