Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene presented an updated budget proposal to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 22. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-17 is still being crafted, but there is potential for expenditures to outpace revenues. Currently, revenues are projected at $300,236,381 with expenditures potentially adding up to $311,021,705, based on current requests. That would mean commissioners would have to make up a nearly $11 million dollar difference.
One big line item in the upcoming budget is costs related to settling wrongful imprisonment lawsuits to the tune of just over $6 million. Those lawsuits were the result of actions by former Sheriff Bobby Medford in 2000, which led to the wrongful imprisonment of four people. Medford is now serving a 15 year sentence in a federal penitentiary for his convictions in 2008 on extortion and corruption charges.
Other budget woes include the loss of about $2 million in federal forfeiture funds. Greene reports she was notified in the past few months that Buncombe County would not be receiving that money, but states the county is not alone in having that funding cease. Buncombe County must also budget $424,313 for general election costs, $286,000 for computer maintenance and licensing fees and $429,246 for a state mandated increase in retirement contribution rate.
In all, mandated costs and unfunded mandates, such as $1,770,329 to open Enka Intermediate School, could create an additional $6,493,092 shortfall. The total proposed budget with those spending requests would be $317,514,797, if all are granted.
Furthermore, Buncombe County still hasn’t received all its requests for funding. Most notably absent are spending requests from Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools and Asheville-Buncombe Technical College. There are also requests that are still being considered, such as $150,000 for animal resource officers, $15,000 for recycling containers in the courthouse, $600,000 for law enforcment vehicle replacement, $250,000 for a new park in Candler, $200,000 for greenway funding, $2 million to restore Eagle and Market Streets and other requests that total $10,571,291. Including all of those requests would bring the total FY 2016-17 budget to $328,086,088.
If all requests are honored, those numbers would create a total shortfall of $27,849,707.
However, Buncombe County does have some relief options. Greene reports the county could delay payment on the Eagle and Market Streets project, sell two properties roughly estimated at a total worth of $7 million and potentially find a buyer for the parcel of land previously reserved for Deschutes Brewery’s proposed expansion that fell through. Some relief might also come in the form of holiday sales tax; those figures are slated to be released to officials sometime in April. And, ultimately, Commissioners can also say no to various projects they believe the county can’t afford.
Buncombe County Commissioners will hold at least three more budget workshops as staff continues to consider revenue and expenditure options. There will also be a chance for the public to weigh in on the budget at future meetings. The current fiscal year ends June 30.