After the city of Asheville enjoyed widespread national and international press for adopting a resolution in support of reparations for the Black community on July 14, Buncombe County may be next in line. The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on a similar measure at its meeting of Tuesday, Aug. 4.
The resolution, added to the agenda at the behest of Democratic Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Amanda Edwards and Al Whitesides, is similar to Asheville’s in not allocating any specific funding or mandating direct payments to Black residents. Instead, the county would apologize for its role in slavery and segregation, appoint members to the city’s Community Reparations Commission, “continue prioritizing racial equity” in its strategic work and update Buncombe’s website “to include references to enslaved people who lived in our community.”
A second resolution on the agenda would declare racism “a public health and safety crisis” within Buncombe County. As noted in a July 21 presentation to the board by Assistant County Manager Dakisha Wesley, similar resolutions had previously been passed by the county’s Justice Resource Advisory Council and Health and Human Services Board.
Board members were broadly supportive of that declaration on July 21, with Republican Commissioner Anthony Penland saying he would have voted for it that day. Whitesides, the board’s only African American member, said he was gratified to see the language up for consideration.
“If you had told me this would happen in Buncombe County just 10 years ago, I would’ve argued with you and said, ‘No way,’” Whitesides remarked.
In other news
Continuing the theme of racial justice, the board will appoint six members to the joint city-county Vance Monument Task Force, which will decide the fate of the now-shrouded obelisk. The list of 19 possible members published prior to the meeting, which commissioners had winnowed from a pool of 116 applicants, features candidates representing a broad ideological spectrum, from former local NAACP president Carmen Ramos-Kennedy to Terry Lee Edgerton, a self-described Black “Southern heritage activist.”
Buncombe County will also get more budgetary breathing room through a second round of COVID-19 relief funds disbursed from the federal coronavirus aid package by North Carolina government. Of nearly $5.09 million in funding, the county will keep approximately $3.44 million, with the remainder distributed to Buncombe’s municipalities and fire districts.
The county kept approximately $3 million from the first round of funding, using it for expenses such as personal protective equipment, food delivery and COVID-19 community testing. Just under $200,000 of that initial allocation remains unspent.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains five items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Approval of the June 2020 tax collection report. According to Jennifer Pike, the county’s tax collector, Buncombe had received only 99.39% of fiscal year 2019-20 taxes through June 30, down from 99.87% for the previous fiscal year; she attributed the reduction to COVID-19. Over $1.27 million of 2019-20 taxes remain unpaid.
- A revision of the county’s fund balance policy that would dedicate all excess general fund balance above 20% to the County Capital Projects Fund. Don Warn, the county’s finance director, said in a staff report that the change would “create better management of undesignated fund balance” and provide money for pay-go projects.
The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m., during which members will discuss county sidewalks policy, Interstate 26 aesthetics and opposing the under-construction Catawba Indian Nation casino in Kings Mountain. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
The meetings will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Comment will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3, via email (limit of 350 words) at email@example.com or voicemail at 828-250-6500.