If the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passes its fiscal year 2020 budget as presented during the board’s April 16 pre-meeting, Sheriff Quentin Miller will be poised to rustle up a larger posse. Ten new Sheriff’s Office employees — six patrol deputies and four detention officers/intake specialists, at a total cost exceeding $700,000 annually — mark the biggest personnel addition in the nearly $341 million recommended expenditures budget.
The law enforcement expansion represents only a fraction of the new employees requested by county staff. As explained by Jennifer Barnette, Buncombe’s budget director, departmental leaders had sought 69 new positions for the coming fiscal year, but the Finance Department recommended approving just 20. Combined with denied salary adjustments and reclassifications, she said, not hiring the new positions would save the county over $4 million from the initially requested budget.
The county’s Department of Health and Human Services would also pick up nine new care coordination positions as part of a restructuring of how it manages two children’s health programs. Health and Human Services Director Stoney Blevins said that, because of the state’s 2019 transformation of Medicaid to a managed care model (for more information, see avl.mx/5xm), the county would save money by bringing its care coordination for children and pregnancy care management services in-house.
Blevins emphasized that the change would be revenue-neutral because the county would pay for these positions using federal dollars that currently pass through to providers such as the Mountain Area Health Education Center. “It really will look like an increase in [full-time equivalent positions]; we just want you to understand that we’re not actually adding a new program,” he said. “We’re assuming responsibility for a program we were able to provide in a different way.”
The only other personnel changes in Barnette’s recommended budget were a new General Services HVAC specialist and an assistant county manager noted as a “reallocation of an existing position.” However, the county still expects to spend over $9.5 million more — a 7.07% increase — on salaries and benefits next fiscal year compared to this year’s budget. The new spending is largely due to higher state-required employer retirement contributions, growing health insurance costs and a 1.77% cost-of-living adjustment.
Altogether, Barnette said, the recommended budget represents a 5.24% increase over the FY 2019 total. Next to salaries and benefits, program support for education grew by the largest net amount: Over $6.2 million in new spending will support early childhood education and both Buncombe County and Asheville City school systems.
Commissioner Al Whitesides praised Barnette and the budget staff for their clear outline of the county’s finances. “For the first time since I’ve been on the county commission at budget time, I’m beginning to feel homesick, like I’m back at the bank, because I feel like we’re getting it where it should be,” said the former Mountain 1st Bank & Trust vice president. “I’ve felt sometimes before it was smoke and mirrors.”
The board’s next meeting on the budget will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 30, in the First Floor Conference Room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. A public hearing will be held during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, in Room 326 of the same building.