Buncombe County’s investment in a controversial Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant may go beyond the $27 million in tax rebates unanimously approved by the Board of Commissioners in November. At their meeting of Tuesday, May 18, board members will consider approving a $5 million budget for a workforce training center near the South Asheville aerospace factory to be operated by A-B Tech.
According to a document available prior to the meeting, the 20,000-square-foot facility would “provide a pipeline of skilled workers prior to the plant opening, helping to recruit qualified candidates and pre-train and post-train employees.” The funding would come from future county bonds that would be repaid through local sales tax revenues.
Although the document includes no timeline for completion of the training center, local community colleges have already started training programs specifically targeted at prospective Pratt & Whitney employees. A-B Tech offers short courses in machining and manufacturing processes, graduates of which will be guaranteed an interview at the plant. The guarantee also applies for graduates of three courses offered by Blue Ridge Community College.
One local activist group, Reject Raytheon AVL, continues to protest the Pratt & Whitney factory over its ties to Raytheon Technologies, a Massachusetts-based firm that is one of the United States’ largest weapons suppliers. Its organizers have scheduled an unspecified direct action at the construction site of a bridge to the factory over the French Broad River on Saturday, May 22.
In other news
County Manager Avril Pinder will present her recommended budget to the board, giving commissioners two weeks to consider the proposal before the scheduled public hearing on Tuesday, June 1. Although the document was not linked to the county’s agenda at press time, the most recent budget presentation, delivered by Buncombe staff on May 11, projected total general fund expenditures of $360 million and a property tax rate of 48.8 cents per $100 in valuation.
The board will also hear a presentation from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority. Although passenger numbers at the Fletcher facility were down over 65% for the period from February 2020 to February 2021 compared to the previous 12 months (the latest window for which data is available), the airport received at least $14 million in federal relief and did not lay off any employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 14 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Directing nearly $71,000 in Federal Transit Administration grant funding to the city of Asheville to continue the extension of bus service along New Leicester Highway. Roughly 559 total passengers boarded or departed the bus along the two-mile route extension from July through December 2020.
- Transferring over $317,000 in lapsed salary from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to cover the county’s required match for a federal grant in support of three new detectives. Board Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara voted against making the hires in July 2020.
- Approving an application for $1 million in state education lottery funds to upgrade security hardware at the entrances of county schools. If approved, the project is not expected to require additional county funding.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response and other topics. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In-person public comment will be accepted at the start of the meeting. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, May 17, at 3 p.m. In alignment with a May 14 executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper, in-person attendance without face coverings will be allowed throughout the meeting.
Commenters can also register to speak via Zoom. Regardless of medium, all commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.
Updated at 4:55 p.m. on May 14 to reflect new public attendance protocols.