Buncombe Commissioners to discuss budget, hemlock preservation

Nonprofit agencies will make their case for funding from Buncombe County's upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2018. A total of 46 nonprofits are asking for an aggregate of almost $11 million.

The Tuesday, May 19, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ meeting will be all about the budget — shifting near the end to discuss a possible hemlock preservation project.

Budget requests

Buncombe County Schools, Asheville City Schools, A-B Tech and the District Attorney’s Office will be requesting county funds, which, together, total a little more than $73 million.

Buncombe County Schools and Asheville City Schools, asking for the largest portion of that figure, receive funding in one large sum, which is then split proportionately to the number of individuals (students, staff) affected by the budget.

Buncombe County Schools is asking for $54.4 million, while Asheville City Schools has requested $9.4 million — totaling around $64 million. Both figures are an increase from last year’s budget, where, together, the two districts received $60 million — $51.3 million for county schools and $8.9 million for city schools.

Combined with A-B Tech, which is asking for $8.4 million (up from last year’s $6.6 million), these three schools make up the education appropriations from the county’s general fund and could cost the county $72 million total.

The last request on the list, funding for the District Attorney’s Office, is $654,577.

County manager’s budget presentation 

County Manager Wanda Greene will then give a presentation of the proposed county budget.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the recommended budget comes to $387 million, which maintains the current tax rate of 60.4 cents.

“We prepare the recommended budget without a perfect picture of
the future,” writes Greene in the budget summary. “Given what we know about the economy, the state and federal governments, and current challenges, we make our best assumptions. We will continue to follow closely state and federal activities that can impact our budget.”

The commissioners will consider the items listed in the budget proposal and hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 2, at 4:30 p.m. Following public comment and discussion, the commissioners will vote to either adopt, amend or rethink the budget.

Hemlock preservation

The commissioners will then delve back into environmental issues — a topic that’s been popping up regularly in our mountain county.

Last meeting, the commissioners voted to protect the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, and this week, they’ll consider protecting two species of hemlocks that have been rapidly disappearing from our mountain ridges.

Both the Eastern hemlock and the Carolina hemlock, only found in Western North Carolina, are subject to an invasion of non-native, sap-sucking insects, which have already caused the death of millions of the already small hemlock population.

According to the agenda, the hemlock faces extinction in as little as 20 years if the culprit population of hemlock wooly adelgids isn’t reduced drastically.

Buncombe County will propose a solution in order to restore ecological balance to WNC: building up the population of Lari beetles to reduce the adelgid population.

This will be a multi-year effort that will establish wilderness preservation areas for the endangered Carolina hemlocks, protecting hemlocks in populated areas as well.

How does the county hope to do this? With a budget of $25,000, administration from WNC Communities and volunteer support from MountainTrue, the goals for 2015 are:

  • secure 5,000 Lari beetles from the Pacific Northwest
  • release the Lari beetles into WNC
  • prioritize saving the last remaining old-growth hemlock groves

The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 19, at 4:30 p.m. on the third floor of 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. For the full agenda, click here.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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