A major public investment in solar energy could soon dawn in Buncombe County. At their meeting of Tuesday, July 21, Buncombe’s commissioners will weigh choices for a nearly $10.3 million collection of solar projects that would be installed on county facilities and area schools.
As outlined in a presentation available before the meeting by Jeremiah LeRoy, the county’s sustainability officer, the projects could save Buncombe County, A-B Tech, Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools roughly $27.2 million in total electricity costs over the next 30 years. The use of solar power would also assist with the county’s commitment to run all operations with renewable energy by 2030.
Although the commissioners voted 6-1 to issue a request for proposals for the solar initiative in November — with only the late Mike Fryar in opposition — the board did not allocate any funding for the work in Buncombe County’s fiscal 2020-21 budget. LeRoy suggested that new 15-year bonds be issued to support the projects.
The contract for the solar projects would go to Asheville-based MB Haynes Corp. The company’s bid came in under previous county cost projections, which LeRoy attributed partly to lower prices on solar panels resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced market demand.
In other business
At the request of County Manager Avril Pinder, the board will vote on awarding bonus paid time off to more than 1,100 county employees who participated in Buncombe’s COVID-19 response. Approximately 28 of those employees, including communicable disease nurses, emergency services staff and the county’s communication team, could receive an additional two weeks of PTO.
Unlike all other counties in North Carolina except Mecklenburg, Buncombe allows employees to sell unused vacation time. Commissioners capped leave sales at 40 hours per year in late 2018 after revelations that former County Manager Wanda Greene, who is currently serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for fraud, received over $350,000 in compensation for unused annual leave.
The board will also vote to accept several grants to bolster its first responder capacity. The Dogwood Health Trust will award the county $382,000 for community paramedics who can provide medication-assisted treatment and other services to roughly 500 residents who have experienced opioid overdoses.
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will receive over $776,000 in grants. The N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program DWI Taskforce will provide over $401,000 to hire three new officers and equip them with vehicles, while the federal Department of Justice will award $375,000 to hire three new detectives and buy one new vehicle.
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:
- Approval of an up to $3.5 million contract with Georgia-based AstroTurf to install artificial turf fields at the Buncombe County Sports Park in Enka. The expense will be covered through the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s Tourism Product Development Fund; the fields are likely to be completed in the spring of 2021.
- A budget amendment to accept a grant of over $235,000 from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The money will support the county health department’s COVID-19 response, including testing, contact tracing and risk assessment.
- A resolution allowing the county to collect taxes on behalf of Weaverville. As reported by the Weaverville Tribune, the town council was split 3-2 in its approval of the measure, with Council member Andrew Nagle citing the fiscal malfeasance of Greene and other former Buncombe officials as the reason for his no vote.
The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m., during which members will discuss tax collection, property revaluation and declaring racism a public health crisis. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
Although commissioners did allow members of the public to attend their June 16 regular meeting, the July 21 sessions will return to virtual-only participation. The meetings will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Comment by electronic means (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, July 20, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.