Buncombe commissioners deny GE’s tax refund request

STATE YOUR CASE: Buncombe County Attorney Curt Euler makes the case that county commissioners should deny a tax refund to General Electric Healthcare and Finance, represented by Gilbert Laite III, left. Photo by Greg Parlier

After a nearly 30-minute discussion, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 to deny a tax refund request from General Electric Healthcare and Finance at its Aug. 15 meeting, potentially sending the issue to the courts.

Board Chair Brownie Newman voted against the denial, and Parker Sloan was absent.

GE Healthcare and Finance, a conglomerate that previously absorbed GE Capital and GE Industrial, according to its legal representative, Gilbert Laite III, requested a nearly $280,000 refund because of an administrative error by the companies in 2019.

Four years ago, both GE Capital and GE Industrial, at the time separate legal entities, paid property taxes on the same equipment after redundantly listing it on their independent forms. The mistake wasn’t discovered by the companies until a 2022 audit, leading to the refund request.

County Attorney Curt Euler recommended commissioners deny the request on the grounds that no GE company appealed its apparent listing errors after they were made and the county had legal authority to levy the tax initially based on the information provided. GE has also requested a refund of about $227,000 from the City of Asheville.

Conversely, Laite said, the same property was taxed twice, creating an improper windfall for the county.

“No one is accusing the county of doing anything wrong. The fact is that the same property was taxed twice, and payment was made. That can’t be done,” he said.

Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said she didn’t think the commission was the right body to be making the decision.

“The law isn’t exactly mute on these issues, nor is the law crystal clear on what government action [should be taken]. In the absence of that, I think what we typically do is defer to the courts to get clarity,” she said.

In voting against denial, Newman said he didn’t think it was right to keep tax money that the county now knows was based on an administrative error by GE.

“The payments were made twice by mistake. And just because it’s a big corporation, I mean, if this were some other local business, I don’t think we can treat people any differently just based on who it is,” Newman said.

GE now has three years to bring civil action against the county, if it wishes.

Affordable downtown parking program to expand

Starting Monday, Aug. 21, qualifying downtown workers can apply for one of 50 affordable parking spots in the College Street parking deck for $40 a month.

The affordable parking program, which launched in December 2022, has seen measured success despite a slower-than-expected start at the Coxe Avenue garage, said Tim Love, Buncombe’s director of economic development and government relations, prompting its expansion.

There is a high usage rate among the 75 applicants enrolled to park in the Coxe Avenue garage, according to a staff presentation, but there are 150 total spots available in that garage, at 11 Sears Alley.

During public comment, Jen Hampton, a leader in Asheville Food and Beverage United who has been promoting the program among service industry workers, attributed the initial lower-than-expected participation in the program to its winter start date.

Hampton said if staff expanded the program now, during summer, she would have more time to promote the program, and people would be more likely to sign up.

“It’ll be pretty popular, you guys will be pretty popular; it’s a win for everybody,” she said

Staff plans to move the program to a first-come, first-served basis so those interested can immediately participate rather than wait for an application window to close. Love believes more of the initial 167 applicants may have followed through if the application process were streamlined in that way. Participants saved an average of $74 a month on parking fees in the Coxe Avenue garage in July, according to a staff analysis.

Any adult who works downtown, has a valid driver’s license and makes less than 80% of area median income — $47,600 for a one-person household — can apply for the program. A staff survey showed there’s a large cluster of downtown workers who would qualify who work near the College Street and Broadway intersection, just a couple of blocks from the College Street garage.

In other news

Commissioners unanimously approved allowance bonuses for the investigations team of Buncombe County’s Child Protective Services division, as well as incentive pay for members who recruit additional employees to help address the department’s staffing shortage.

According to a staff presentation, investigations staff will receive an extra $400 a month until fiscal year 2024-25, or when the department fills 22 of its 29 positions, whichever happens first. Currently, 11 of the department’s 29 positions are filled, said Sharon Burke, Buncombe’s human resources director.

Additionally, commissioners approved up to $750 in recruitment incentives for current employees if their recruits stay for a year, Burke said.



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