Buncombe Commissioners to vote on tourism tax, parkway protection

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 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ Sept. 1 meeting seems to cover all of the bases, from taxes to zoning to county services and a possible Vietnam memorial wall.

Time capsules, peace and honored entrepreneurs

First off, the board will name three days in honor of three different causes.

Sept. 18, 2015 will be proclaimed as Asheville Buncombe Time Capsule Day, celebrating the installation of the next 100-year time capsule into the Vance Monument downtown.

“Asheville’s first time capsule was placed by the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Masons under the cornerstone of the Vance Monument as part of the monument construction in 1896,” reads the proclamation.

Opened on March 31 of this year, the 1896 capsule contained a Bible, coins, local media publications, Masonic memorabilia, Zebulon Vance memorabilia, a list of city officers, a city schools yearbook and honor roll and the program of the dedication ceremony.

Now, Asheville and Buncombe County are putting another capsule back under the cornerstone of the monument, this time containing “a snapshot of what makes Asheville and Buncombe County unique in 2015,” such as our business, arts and culture, current events, social issues and demographics, among other things. The time capsule will be opened in the year 2115.

Next up, Sept. 21, 2015 will be declared the International Day of Peace.

“The issue of peace embraces the deepest hopes of all peoples and remains humanity’s guiding inspiration,” reads the proclamation. Buncombe County will “urge all agencies, organizations, schools, places of worship and individuals in our county to commemorate in an appropriate manner the International Day of Peace.”

And, finally, the Board will declare the week of Sept. 14-18 as Minority Enterprise Development Week, celebrating and honoring minority entrepreneurs in our community.

“As we enter in an era of expanded opportunities in economic growth and development and face the economic challenges ahead, it is appropriate that we encourage minority business owners by recognizing their contributions toward the continued economic development of our community,” the proclamation reads.

Increased tourism tax

The Board will consider a resolution raising the room occupancy and tourism development tax from 4 to 6 percent.

This means that overnight vacationers in Buncombe County would have to pay an additional 2 percent in taxes on top of the 7 percent sales tax rate. If approved, the new rate would go into effect on Nov. 1.

Parkway protection

Next, Commissioners will decide whether to add additional restrictions to the Blue Ridge Parkway overlay district.

In May, Buncombe County agreed to work with the National Park Service to come up with additional rules for development along the parkway’s viewshed. Now, the County Planning Department will present those suggestions.

While, under current requirements, the rules imposed in the Blue Ridge Parkway overlay apply only to non-single family development, the new proposition suggests that these restrictions should apply to all development. And while the current ordinance states that the property must be adjacent to NPS property, the proposed changes would apply to any property visible from the road. As an additional requirement, trees must be planted between the building and the parkway to help keep the parkway’s views as natural as possible.

At the May meeting, Commissioners and Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods discussed how adjacent development spoiled the natural views from portions of the parkway in Virginia. Woods noted that the surrounding towns reported a severely degraded quality of the scenic views, which decreased tourism and negatively affected the surrounding areas.

Sales tax redistribution

The Board will discuss a letter drafted to the North Carolina General Assembly, revealing Buncombe County’s firm stance against the proposed sales tax redistribution.

“The change in formula will have a huge negative impact on our budgeted revenue,” reads the letter. “Our only option to increase revenues will be through the increase in local option sales taxes through referendum. If the electorate doesn’t support the tax increase, our options will be to cut services or raise property taxes to pay for infrastructure investments already made, threatening our continued economic growth.”

Additionally, the Commissioners point out, “many individuals commute into high growth regions for jobs while having the option to live in a more rural setting. … We believe investing in infrastructure that allows for regional economies rather than county-oriented economies is best for the state.”

Vietnam memorial wall

A vague agenda information sheet outlines the basics of a funding request for a local Vietnam memorial wall.

“The local veterans group is working to bring the Vietnam Wall memorial to Buncombe County,” it reads.

So far, the group has raised $12,000 of the $25,000 required. The unnamed veterans group asks that Buncombe County give $1,000 from each of its six municipalities, totaling $6,000.

A change in fire districts

Currently, there are 35 Rural Fire Protection Districts and County Service Districts providing fire protection, ambulance and rescue services to the citizens of Buncombe County.

For tax purposes, county staff and the Buncombe County Fire Chiefs Association propose “to abolish and establish certain service districts,” so that there will be only 21 of these districts in the county.

“The purpose of these proposed new Fire Protection & Ambulance and Rescue Service Districts would be to provide financial support for the current nineteen community volunteer and professional fire departments” and assist the Asheville Fire Departments when needed.

If passed, the resolution will allow the county to move forward and hold five public hearings in October on whether particular fire service districts are needed, as well as 15 public hearings for several new districts.

Prior to these hearings, the county will prepare a report on each district.

Extending emergency medical services

In that same vein, the county will discuss extending emergency medical services to five fire protection service districts.

The fire districts in that could benefit from this proposition are:

  • the Broad River FPSD
  • the East Buncombe FPSD
  • the Enka-Candler FPSD
  • the Garren Creek FPSD
  • the Asheville Suburban FPD

The meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1, in the Commissioner Chambers on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St. To view 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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