Buncombe to vote on racial equity plan June 15

Buncombe County seal

June is proving to be a busy month for racial justice in Buncombe County. A week after the June 8 approval of $2.1 million toward community reparations by Asheville City Council, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether to adopt a Racial Equity Action Plan Tuesday, June 15.

As outlined in a staff report available before the meeting, an Equity and Inclusion Workgroup consisting of Buncombe employees has worked to develop the plan over the past 16 months. Community members offered feedback through 11 input sessions and an online survey.

The draft document lists six high-level goals for both county government and the broader community, such as providing racial equity education and communication, improving quality-of-life outcomes through racial equity initiatives and establishing Buncombe as an equity inclusion model. While the plan lists example strategies and establishes which county departments will be responsible for each goal, it does not include any specific budgetary or timeline details.

However, as County Manager Avril Pinder has previously explained to the commissioners, Buncombe’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22 includes $167,000 in salary and benefits for an equity officer that would spearhead implementation of the plan. The new hire represents a compromise with the Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, which had requested two equity-focused positions.

Branch library changes on hold

Having chosen not to make a final decision on the county budget immediately after the June 1 public hearing, the board is scheduled to take that vote at the June 15 meeting. No changes have been introduced to the spending plan, which includes an effective property tax increase of 2 cents per $100 in valuation, as previously proposed by Pinder.

Commissioners will also vote on whether to approve a comprehensive facilities study developed by Rochester, N.Y.-based CPL. As previously reported by Xpress, the study advocates for condensing forward-facing county staff into fewer buildings and allowing many employees to work remotely on at least a part-time basis.

While the study includes a recommendation to move downtown’s Pack Memorial Library to a new building, it omits neighborhood branch closures and other changes to the county library system that have received significant community pushback since their initial presentation on May 18. “Further public outreach will be conducted to gather additional feedback, and staff will present these findings to the [Board of Commissioners],” notes a staff report available before the meeting.

The board’s agenda does not include a discussion of the Buncombe occupancy tax. Board Chair Brownie Newman had said on May 27 that the discussion, which had initially been scheduled for June 1, would be postponed until June 15.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • Increasing the fiscal year 2020-21 budget for the Register of Deeds excise stamp tax by $200,000. Revenue from the tax, which is assessed on the value of real estate transactions, had initially been projected as lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Approving more than $129,000 in spending on the emergency replacement of stormwater infrastructure at the Buncombe County Landfill. The expense will be covered by greater-than-expected revenues in the county’s solid waste fund.
  • Approving over $81,000 in spending to cover debt service requirements for the Woodfin Downtown Project. Payments on the debt are meant to be funded from additional taxes generated by the project; because those revenues are running short of projections, the county and Woodfin town government must use general fund money to make up the difference.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 response, a flexible work policy for county employees, enactment of the county’s nondiscrimination ordinance and other topics. 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 meeting, and attendees may remain in the board’s chambers throughout the proceedings. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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