Buncombe energy assistance program gets $485K boost

Buncombe County seal

January and February bring the coldest nights of winter to Western North Carolina, and with them, some of the highest heating bills for local residents. Those living in Buncombe County may get some extra help with those energy expenses, thanks to a more than $485,000 state grant up for consideration at the Tuesday, Jan. 19, meeting of the county Board of Commissioners.

According to a staff report available before the meeting, North Carolina appropriated the funds from the state’s allocation under the first federal COVID-19 relief package. The money is specifically designated for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, administered by Buncombe County Health and Human Services, which provides one-time payments for households in need of help with utilities.

To qualify, households must meet the following criteria:

  • Income equal to or less than 130% of the federal poverty limit.
  • Savings at or below $2,250.
  • Responsible for heating costs.

Applications for LIEAP are taken through March. Those interested in applying should visit avl.mx/8wd or call 828-255-3066.

In other news

Police dispatching services for Black Mountain and Montreat could come under the Buncombe County umbrella should the board approve a new 911 consolidation agreement. According to a report available before the meeting by Brooke Hazlett, the county’s 911 division manager, the arrangement would provide more consistent service for residents of those municipalities and boost data sharing between agencies.

As part of the deal, the county would absorb one employee who currently handles fire dispatching for Black Mountain. Black Mountain would in turn pay Buncombe roughly $162,000 per year for the improved service, with Montreat chipping in about $10,000 annually.

Commissioners will also hear two presentations designed to familiarize them with other local bodies. The first concerns the Land of Sky Regional Council, a regional planning organization that includes Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties and their municipalities; the second deals with the county Board of Equalization and Review, which handles appeals over property tax matters.

Consent agenda and public comment

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

  • Accept a nearly $73,000 grant from the Chicago-based nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life. Passed through from the N.C. State Board of Elections, the funding provides $100 in hazard pay for every Buncombe County poll worker who covered the November general election.
  • Approve a budget amendment of slightly over $2,000 to cover unexpected library infrastructure expenses. The money comes in addition to $138,000 already spent on upgrades to the library system’s security cameras and wireless internet.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, property tax benchmarking, paid sick leave policy and other matters. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

Public comment will only be permitted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails will be accepted. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, Jan. 18, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.

Additionally, a special meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, to conduct a public hearing on a $150,000 appropriation to fund loans and grants for small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. Money for that economic development program would come from the county’s general fund. Registration to comment at the meeting will be open 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, through 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25.

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

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

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

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.