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.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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