The three new employees the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners seeks to hire won’t be hammering nails, sawing wood or framing roofs. But board members argue they’ll be just as necessary as construction workers to the expansion of affordable housing.
During its meeting of Tuesday, Dec. 7, the board will consider a budget amendment to create three new full-time positions in Buncombe’s Planning Department. At a cost of roughly $164,000 per year, the staffers would help the department’s Community Development Division manage housing feasibility studies and oversee other work.
As outlined in a Nov. 16 presentation to the board’s Affordable Housing Subcommittee, Buncombe hopes to address affordability in part by redeveloping county-owned property in downtown Asheville. Properties on Coxe Avenue and Woodfin Street currently used for county parking lots or small buildings, for example, could instead host dense housing available to low- and medium-income residents.
The subcommittee’s members — board Chair Brownie Newman, as well as commissioners Amanda Edwards and Parker Sloan — say Buncombe needs to conduct feasibility studies for those properties, a task they believe the county can’t accomplish at current staffing levels. They draw comparisons to another study currently underway for county-owned property on Ferry Road, which could be slated for mixed-use development, including affordable housing.
If the new positions are approved, hiring would begin in January. The employees would then develop a request for proposals for an outside firm to conduct the feasibility studies starting in July. Estimated costs for the studies themselves are not currently available.
$1M in COVID pay for county employees
Having previously approved over $1 million in pandemic premium pay for county staff as part of their federal American Rescue Plan Act grants, commissioners will now consider the details of how that money will be doled out. A policy up for approval at the Dec. 7 meeting outlines four payment tiers for employees based on their involvement in the pandemic response.
The biggest bonuses (up to $3,000) would go to “core COVID” employees, those who spent at least 75% of their time on managing Buncombe’s approach to the coronavirus. High-risk workers making direct contact with the public, such as first responders, would be eligible for payments of up to $1,500, while customer service staff and other “medium-low risk” workers could get up to $1,000. Employees who were reassigned to COVID-19 response would get an extra $1.44 per hour, up to a total of $1,000.
The county estimates that 757 workers would be eligible for at least some bonus pay. If approved, the money would go out at the end of December.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 13 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Acceptance of an ambulance donation from the Skyland Fire District. Skyland is discontinuing its own ambulance service at the end of the year, a move expected to add over 2,000 calls annually to the county’s Emergency Services load.
- A budget amendment accepting a nearly $17,000 grant for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office from the U.S. Department of Justice. The money will be used to purchase “ballistic helmets, goggles, gas masks, replacement filters and storage pouches.”
- Three budget amendments accepting over $163,000 in grants for the Buncombe County Public Libraries. Awards include $100,000 from the Mildred Duomi Living Trust for library education, roughly $53,000 from the Universal Service Administrative Company for an internet hotspot lending program and about $10,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for an arts program at the East Asheville Library.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. before the regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 response and other matters. On Nov. 30, the county renewed its indoor mask mandate through Wednesday, Jan. 5; in a Facebook post the same day, Newman cited the potential for high viral transmission during holiday shopping and uncertainty around the omicron variant as reasons for the extension. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.