Buncombe budget vote expected June 1

Buncombe County seal

By state law, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners must approve a budget by the end of June. But this year, the process is running well ahead of schedule — the board is expected to vote on the county’s spending plan after a public hearing at its regular meeting of Tuesday, June 1.

If the vote takes place as planned, it would mark the second consecutive year in which the board approved the budget immediately after the public hearing. Last year, Chair Brownie Newman noted that the board has historically allowed some time between the hearing and the vote to consider resident input. However, he agreed to hold the vote on an accelerated timeline at the behest of both Republican and Democratic board members.

The budget itself remains mostly unchanged from that presented by County Manager Avril Pinder on May 18. Total general fund spending would be about $360.4 million, with a property tax rate of 48.8 cents per $100 in valuation (an effective increase of 2 cents above the revenue-neutral rate).

The only alteration from the previous document is an extra $441,000 allocation to local schools, including $373,000 to the county system and $68,000 to Asheville City Schools, to be funded from the county’s fiscal reserves. The budget does not include the $3 million requested by the city district to repair Asheville Primary School and address other preschool needs.

While taxes may be going up, Buncombe residents can count on one source of fiscal relief: The county library system is eliminating all overdue fees for books and other materials.

In other news

The county will lay the legal groundwork to take in major funding from outside sources. Two budget amendments would accept over $50.73 million and $6.2 million, respectively, from the federal American Rescue Plan and U.S. Department of the Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance program.

The former pot of money, as previously reported by Xpress, could be used for direct assistance to households harmed by COVID-19, bonus pay for essential workers or infrastructure investments. The latter money is limited to direct financial assistance for housing and utilities.

Commissioners will also vote on whether to accept a memorandum of agreement with state government regarding the settlement of litigation against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis. The exact amount Buncombe stands to gain from the settlement remains to be determined, but Pinder estimated the proceeds at approximately $14 million in a May 4 briefing of the board.

And the agenda lists a discussion of the county’s hotel occupancy tax policy, added at the request of Newman, as well as Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Al Whitesides. In his initial response to a query from Xpress, Newman did not specify what issues he wanted to consider but said he did not anticipate any votes to be taken; in a subsequent message, he said the discussion would likely be moved to Tuesday, June 15.

Consent agenda and public comment

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

  • Accepting over $78,000 in state funding to support the county’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. The money will provide an immediate, one-time supplemental payment to all households that have previously gotten aid.
  • Approving the annual certification and spending plan for the county’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. The program will receive roughly $937,000, of which more than $644,000 will come from state funds.
  • Approving the April 2021 tax collection report. At 99.19%, the county’s tax collection rate through April 30 is slightly greater than the 99.01% reported through the same date in the previous fiscal year.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response, strategic plan, annual transparency report and other topics. 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. In a change from previous protocols, no registration is required, but comments will no longer be accepted via phone, email or Zoom call.

Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

Updated at 9:45 a.m. May 28 to reflect new information on the proposed hotel occupancy tax policy discussion.

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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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