Concerns of racial equity are increasingly shaping how Buncombe County employees do their work. But a new proposal up for consideration by the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, May 4, would also bring an equity lens to when county workers go off the clock.
As outlined in a presentation by Sharon Burke, Buncombe’s human resources director, county leaders are requesting that Juneteenth be added as a paid holiday. Observed on June 19 or the immediately preceding Friday, the holiday commemorates the 1865 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by Union soldiers to enslaved people in Texas and “signifies freedom and liberation for African Americans in the United States.”
The proposed ordinance establishing the holiday states that the move is supported by the county’s Equity and Inclusion Workgroup and would “represent an authentic and more inclusive history of freedom in America.” However, Burke’s presentation also notes that recognizing Juneteenth “shows a complicated American history and may be considered divisive.”
If approved, Buncombe government workers would receive a total of 13 paid holidays per year, a number in line with other large North Carolina county and city governments. Essential county functions, such as emergency medical services and public safety, would continue to operate that day, and employees required to work would bank the holiday time for later use.
In other news
In advance of its usual funding cycle, Buncombe’s Affordable Housing Committee is recommending that $800,000 in county money be granted to two proposed residential developments by Mountain Housing Opportunities. Lakeshore Villas would bring 120 units of affordable multifamily housing to Arden near Lake Julian, while Pentland Place would provide 110 units just west of Asheville off of New Leicester Road.
Both developments would be targeted at residents making 30% to 80% of the area median income, or between $22,650 and $60,100 annually for a family of four. MHO is also applying for federal low-income housing tax credits to finance the projects.
Also on the agenda is a budget amendment increasing the amount of occupancy tax the county will remit to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority by $8.5 million — an increase of more than 47% over the initially budgeted $18 million. Jennifer Barnette, Buncombe’s budget director, noted that occupancy taxes had been expected to take an “enormous hit” due to the COVID-19 pandemic but that “current year growth has exceeded those expectations.”
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 12 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Authorizing a new wastewater inspector position. Jessica Silver, Buncombe’s environmental health administrator, reports that requests for septic system evaluations have increased by 22% over the past five years due to the area’s construction boom.
- Approving the disbursement of up to $100,000 to cover the cost of installing a pre-K classroom at Avery’s Creek Elementary School. The facility will be run by Community Action Opportunities, which already operates 14 Head Start classrooms at Buncombe elementary schools.
- Approving two contracts for deferred maintenance projects on the Dogwood and Bailey buildings at A-B Tech. James R. Vannoy Construction will receive nearly $36,000 for preconstruction services, while Novus Architects will receive $150,000 for design and construction administration.
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 a change from previous protocols, 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 3, at 3 p.m. Commenters will be required to leave the meeting after speaking to the board.
Commenters can also register to speak via Zoom. Regardless of medium, all commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.