After more than two months in a state of emergency due to COVID-19, Buncombe County will get some support from North Carolina government for its spending in response to the crisis. At a 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, May 19, the Board of Commissioners will hear about nearly $4.5 million coming to the county from the state Coronavirus Relief Fund.
According to a presentation available before the meeting by Rachael Nygaard, the county’s director of strategic partnerships, the money can only be used on expenses directly incurred as a result of the pandemic, such as testing and personal protective equipment. Funding cannot be employed to shore up Buncombe’s budget against the loss of sales and property taxes due to coronavirus-related economic decline.
As of May 5, the county projected that revenues would come in $8.1 million less than budgeted for the current fiscal year. In comparison, Buncombe has so far allocated roughly $800,000 of its reserves for COVID-19 responses that could be reimbursed from the relief fund, including $500,000 for general needs, $200,000 for the One Buncombe Fund and $87,000 for spring break meal service at area schools.
Nygaard notes that county government only plans to keep about $3 million of the state allocation; the remainder would be distributed to Buncombe’s municipalities and fire districts using the same formula as for county sales tax. Asheville would receive roughly $944,000, or 21% of the money, with the Skyland Fire District receiving the next largest award of nearly $67,000, or 1.5%.
However, the state does not require the county to give any of the money to other entities. According to a May 3 email from Democratic Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer to the board’s Democratic commissioners, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, told her that “his colleagues trust counties more than cities and that was the reason they decided to distribute the fund in this manner.”
“Obviously the municipalities in Buncombe are taking a hit as is Buncombe, and I would anticipate there will be an ask from Asheville to the county,” Manheimer continued. “I know you will be thoughtful in your distribution of these funds.”
In other news
The board will consider approval of a new contract for operation of the county’s Mountain Mobility transit service. The estimated cost for RATP Dev, which currently runs the service and also manages Asheville’s bus system, to manage Mountain Mobility over the next fiscal year is $3.3 million.
During a May 5 pre-meeting, county planner Matthew Cable said that the three-year contract represented a substantial improvement over Buncombe’s current deal with RATP Dev. He said that the county will pay less per mile of operation, charge larger penalties for most contract violations and see higher wages paid to local staff.
Commissioners will also declare finished capital projects totaling more than $1.75 million. Completed funding includes nearly $869,000 for the replacement of Sheriff’s Office vehicles, $387,000 for general government vehicles and $188,000 for playground equipment that qualifies as accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A resolution granting Duke Energy an easement for underground utility lines at Bent Creek Park. The new lines will replace current aboveground lines for better protection against weather hazards.
- A budget amendment to accept a $41,750 grant from the federal Department of Justice to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. The money, part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s coronavirus emergency funding, will reimburse the county for purchases of personal protective equipment.
The commission will hold a pre-meeting at 3 p.m. to discuss upcoming business. A special meeting will also take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, for additional discussion of the fiscal year 2020-21 budget. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
Due to COVID-19, no public attendance will be allowed at the board’s 200 College St. meeting location. The meetings will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Public comment (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, May 18, via email at email@example.com or voicemail at 828-250-6500.
Updated at 10:54 a.m. on May 18 to provide notice of the May 21 special meeting.