Buncombe budget up for public hearing at June 4 meeting

Buncombe County seal

Speak now or forever hold your peace. Buncombe County’s one public hearing on the fiscal year 2019-20 budget recommended by County Manager Avril Pinder — over $453.42 million, with nearly $334.52 million made up by general fund spending — takes place at the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, June 4, at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in downtown Ashevillle.

Although Pinder warned commissioners in April that her recommended budget might cause the county to dip below its policy-recommended fund balance of 15%, the projected difference between Buncombe’s assets and liabilities remains over that bar in the most recent version. She anticipates using about $12.98 million of fund balance money, in addition to roughly $321.54 in projected county revenues, to support the spending plan.

That amount covers about $3.6 million in new funding for the area’s education system, including almost $2.77 million for Buncombe County Schools, $513,000 for Asheville City Schools and $275,000 for A-B Tech. Pinder did not increase that allocation from an April 30 draft budget, despite the schools asking for almost $8.16 million on May 7.

Many of the county’s fire districts will also see increases to their tax rates after chiefs pushed for more support at the board’s May 21 pre-meeting. County staff recommended increases of 1 to 3 cents for the Enka, Fairview, French Broad, Riceville and West Buncombe districts; they weighed in against the requested 1-cent increase for Upper Hominy, citing “significant reserves that could be used towards the monthly equipment payment” for a new fire engine.

In other business

Another public hearing on the docket concerns economic development funding, including both new awards from the county’s strategic partnerships grants and existing agreements with companies such as Linamar and New Belgium Brewing. While the hearings are required by state law, the commissioners aren’t required to take any action.

Final appropriations for the new grants will be determined in July. The county could award up to $400,000 to the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition, $100,000 to the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, $70,000 to the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission and $50,000 to the Center for Agricultural and Food Entrepreneurship.

The county will also decide whether to again create a citizen advisory board for parks, greenways and recreation, after disbanding a similar group in 2013. Members would help the county determine strategic priorities for capital investments, implement its Greenways and Trails Master Plan and engage the public around recreation. Although some advocates called for a separate greenways board during an April 16 commission meeting, the currently proposed board would consider greenways together with existing parks and recreation assets.

In their final item of new business, commissioners will vote to approve a tighter policy for filming and recording board meetings. The change would add language that prevents recorders from impeding the vision of audience members and requires cameras to be placed at the back of the room except for temporary close-up filming. No reasons were given for the new restrictions in documents available before the meeting.

Consent agenda

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

  • Approve a $65,000 task order for California-based SCS Engineers to estimate the site life and closure costs for the Buncombe County Landfill. The most recent report on these issues was completed by Environmental Infrastructure Consulting, a company owned by Joseph Wiseman, Jr., who has pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme involving former senior county officials.
  • Approve the fiscal year 2019-20 funding plan for the Buncombe County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. The group’s $670,000 budget, 76% of which comes from the state, supports delinquency reduction efforts such as the Buncombe County Teen Court and home-based services for juvenile sex offenders.
  • Reallocate over $179,000 in savings from the Capital Projects Fund to support other county projects. A roof replacement at the county’s Allport Building and a replacement chiller at 35 Woodfin St. both came in under budget, allowing those funds to be transferred for projects with higher-than-anticipated bids.

The board will hold a pre-meeting at noon in the first floor conference room of the same building. A special closed session will also take place at 4:30 p.m. in Room 326 for the board to consult with an attorney regarding the county’s civil lawsuit against Wiseman and his company, Wanda Greene, Jon Creighton and Mandy Stone. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. 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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