An innovative program to reduce Buncombe County’s jail population is set to receive a second round of funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. At the Tuesday, Feb. 16, meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, members will vote to accept an additional $1.75 million grant for the Safety and Justice Challenge.
As outlined in a presentation available before the meeting, Buncombe has bolstered its services for those awaiting trial since receiving an initial $1.75 million grant in October 2018, often finding ways to divert people away from the county detention facility and into treatment for behavioral health and substance abuse problems. From January 2020 through February, the jail’s average daily population has dropped from 513 to 377, greatly exceeding the county’s 15% reduction goal.
The new influx of funding, which does not require a match from the county, would renew nine positions established through the initial grant. Buncombe would also hire an equity consultant in an effort to reduce racial disparities in sentencing.
“The pandemic we are enduring has highlighted inequities and created opportunities for much-needed reform,” said Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller in a Feb. 9 press release announcing the grant award. “This funding is a vital asset to our continued commitment to working toward reforms in the jail and justice system. This grant also increases our ability to analyze the data, implement those changes and adopt best practices for our community.”
In other news
Commissioners will hear two presentations concerning the Metropolitan Sewerage District and Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission. The former will discuss new sewer capital projects, including a $30 million pump station planned for land near the French Broad River Park in the River Arts District; the latter will outline efforts to bring major sporting events to Asheville as drivers of tourism.
The board will also discuss minor revisions to its gift card policy, first adopted in 2018 in response to the fiscal malfeasance of former County Manager Wanda Greene and other high-level county staff. The proposed changes would clarify the circumstances in which employees may buy gift cards using county procurement cards, as well as allow gift cards to be used in a broader range of county programs.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Establishing a Buncombe County Local Emergency Planning Committee, tasked with increasing public knowledge and preparedness around hazardous chemicals. Although Buncombe currently has such a group, the county had not previously passed a resolution to grant it formal recognition.
- Accepting over $168,000 from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to support COVID-19 vaccinations. The money will continue to fund eight temporary nurse positions in Buncombe’s Health and Human Services.
- Accepting a state grant of $24,500 to purchase four sets of night vision equipment for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. The technology is meant to assist patrol deputies working “along poorly lit back roads” in rural areas.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response and other topics, as well as a 12:30 p.m. special session to conduct interviews for the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Equalization and Review and Buncombe County Planning Board. 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, Feb. 15, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.