Buncombe unveils proposed budget with modest bump for schools

PIE PROJECTIONS: Buncombe County nears approval of its fiscal year 2023-24 budget, projecting a 6.4% increase in spending over the budget adopted last year. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County’s spending, including for education, is slated to increase next fiscal year, pending the outcomes of an upcoming public hearing and vote.

The $423.6 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2023-24, as presented by County Manager Avril Pinder during the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting May 16, represents a roughly 6.4% increase over the budget adopted last year. The approximately $25.5 million in proposed new spending includes 44 new county positions, including 24 public safety roles, along with increases in education funding, according to Pinder’s presentation.

Despite the funding bump, the roughly $115 million recommended for Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools and A-B Tech — 28% of the entire general fund budget — falls well short of the education system’s requests.

Buncombe County Schools would be allocated $90.3 million, far short of the $116 million ask put forward by Superintendent Rob Jackson and unanimously approved by the school board at a budget workshop May 9. BCS is seeking the extra funds primarily to support pay increases for teachers and staff.

“Our county commissioners have been tasked with an incredible challenge in considering where the resources at their disposal will best meet the tremendous needs across our community,” Jackson said in an email to Xpress after the meeting. “We will continue to advocate for our students and staff and will continue to be excellent stewards of the funding entrusted to the school system.”

Asheville City Schools is slated to receive $16.8 million of its $20 million request, and A-B Tech would get $8.1 million of its $9 million request, according to the county’s proposal.

The proposed spending plan outpaces Buncombe’s more modest growth in revenues, with the county projected to bring in just $404.7 million from taxes and fees. The roughly $18.8 million budget gap would be covered by the county’s fund balance.

That spending is still expected to leave Buncombe with more than 15% of its budgeted expenses in reserve, as directed by county policy. However, county Budget Director John Hudson told commissioners during a May 9 budget work session that the fund balance would drop below that threshold by the end of fiscal year 2024-25 without other changes to spending and revenue.

In the proposed fiscal 2023-24 budget, the property tax rate would remain at 48.8 cents per $100 of taxable value for the third straight year. For a house valued at $300,000, a taxpayer would owe $1,464 in property taxes.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6, and the final vote is slated for Tuesday, June 20.

Commissioners approve 20-year county vision

Buncombe completed a lengthy project of outlining how the county should change over the next 20 years when commissioners unanimously approved the 2043 Comprehensive Plan on May 16.

County staff has held or appeared at more than 100 meetings and events since fall 2021 to gather more than 5,200 responses from residents on the document, according to a staff presentation. Yet dozens of residents who felt their voice hadn’t yet been heard piled into the commission chambers and adjacent rooms to comment during the public hearing for the plan.

Some voiced broad support, but many expressed frustrations about a changing vision for their particular neighborhood. At least 15 people spoke directly about what they saw as an inappropriate change to density in the Beaverdam Valley northeast of Asheville.

“What concerns us in Beaverdam Valley about the [comprehensive] plan and the future land use map is that there’s a big disconnect between the proposed mixed-use neighborhood designation and the density currently allowed in the existing Beaverdam overlay,” said Nancy Clarke, the planning and zoning chair of the Beaverdam Valley Neighborhood Association.

“The level of density designated in the [comprehensive] plan is not complementary with any of the present development in Beaverdam,” she continued.

Nathan Pennington, Buncombe’s planning director, stressed that the comprehensive plan is a countywide policy tool that does not itself change zoning designations or laws. Board chair Brownie Newman added that he would not support high-density development near the upper end of Beaverdam Road, but he said such specific decisions weren’t at stake in the long-term vision document.

“Just because I don’t agree with every detail of it doesn’t mean I don’t enthusiastically support this overall plan,” Newman said.

Commissioner Parker Sloan said he hopes the plan will help Buncombe avoid what he sees as mistakes made by larger metropolitan areas, such as Charlotte, in accepting urban sprawl along with inevitable growth. And Commissioner Al Whitesides stressed the importance of planning, something he said the county has not been proactive about in the past.

He cited his late father’s advice as he expressed his support: “If we don’t control growth, growth is going to control us,” Whitesides said.

In other news

One regular board meeting each month may move to the morning as of August. Commissioners informally agreed to give the new schedule a chance during their May 16 briefing.

Sloan said it’s important that both members of the board and residents with diverse work schedules are given as much time to participate in person as possible. “It seems like a mix, like [in this proposal], is an attempt at making that happen,” he said.

If formally adopted, the schedule would change the board’s first Tuesday meeting from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m., with a 9 a.m. briefing before the regular meeting. The third Tuesday meeting of each month would remain at 5 p.m. and be preceded by a 3 p.m. briefing.

County Manager Pinder said she could get the new schedule in place by July, but because that month only includes one meeting due to the July 4 holiday, changes would effectively begin in August.


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