Help is on the way to ensure Buncombe County can conduct safe and secure elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. At its regular meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 1, the county Board of Commissioners will vote on a budget amendment to accept more than $355,000 in federal grants for that purpose.
According to a staff report available before the meeting by Jennifer Barnette, the county’s budget director, the money comes from two federal programs funneled through the N.C. State Board of Elections. The federal coronavirus rescue package accounts for about $183,000 of the funding, while the Help America Vote Act provides the remaining $172,000.
Buncombe’s budget amendment allocates the bulk of the funding, more than $197,000, to unspecified “contract and professional services.” Advertising accounts for another $65,000, while office expenses total another $55,000. No further information was available online regarding specific county plans.
However, a July 15 letter from the state to Buncombe County Election Services outlines further limitations for the money. Eligible expenses include voter education, poll worker training and the improvement of voting systems and technology.
In other news
Another grant-related budget amendment is slated to support the county’s public health response to COVID-19. Commissioners will vote to accept over $366,000 from the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch to fund a team of temporary nurses that will conduct coronavirus “surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, communication and other preparedness and response activities.”
The county will also consider awards of more than $315,000 from the N.C. Education Lottery Fund to Asheville City Schools. Asheville Primary School would receive $205,000 for office renovations and more than $110,000 for mold remediation.
And a public hearing will be held on the issuance of approximately $10.5 million in limited obligation bonds to fund public solar energy projects that the board had previously approved on July 21. Although such bonds will cost the county more to issue than general obligation bonds, as noted in a draft resolution available before the meeting, they allow the projects to be funded more quickly and avoid the need for a special election to approve the financing.
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:
- Acceptance of a $99,000 grant from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to the Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District. The money will support streambank restoration in the Ivy River Watershed to repair damage caused by Hurricane Florence in 2018.
- A budget amendment to allocate $10,000 of revenue from the Register of Deeds office for customer service technology such as laptops, docking stations and monitors. The purchases are not projected to require additional support from the county.
- Rescheduling commission meetings from the first Tuesdays of November and December to Wednesday, Nov. 4, and Monday, Dec. 7. Those dates avoid a conflict with Election Day and fulfil state requirements for the timing of several commission duties.
The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m., at which members will discuss the county’s COVID-19 trends, distribution of federal coronavirus relief for individual assistance and child care and a policy for energy efficiency in county buildings and vehicles. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In a change from prior procedure, public comment will now 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, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the commission.