Commission considers county, city employee sharing

Buncombe County seal

As residents of Western North Carolina work to support each other through COVID-19 with donations and volunteering, Buncombe County’s leaders are taking a similar approach to their interactions with the city of Asheville. A resolution under consideration at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 21, would allow county and city employees to be redeployed as needed throughout the two governments in response to the coronavirus emergency.

According to the formal agreement, both city and county staffers would remain employees of and still be paid by their respective governments while carrying out their new duties. Asheville and Buncombe County would both be required to cover the expense of all necessary personal protective equipment for workers from the other government.

The agreement would be retroactive to March 12, the date on which the city and county both declared states of emergency related to COVID-19. During an April 14 meeting of Asheville City Council at which city leaders approved similar language, City Manager Debra Campbell said the goal was to formalize a relationship that had already been emerging through the pandemic response.

As an example of intergovernmental collaboration, Campbell mentioned the Ready Team call center, an extension of the county’s Emergency Operations Center that has been partly staffed by city employees. “As a result of this pandemic, we are having staff do things that are probably not in their job description,” she said. “However, they are skilled, and they have the skill set to work in a number of other areas.”

In other business

As another aspect of the county’s COVID-19 response, the board will consider a budget amendment to accept over $54,000 from the Dogwood Health Trust in support of alternative lodging for first responders. These rooms would allow health care workers and “other key individuals” to self-isolate safely if they contracted the disease. According to a staff report available before the meeting, the grant money will cover half the cost of 30 rooms for two months.

And looking beyond the pandemic, the commission will take up a motion to support the establishment of the Craggy Mountain Wilderness and National Scenic Area. Put on the agenda at the request of Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Amanda Edwards, the resolution would add official backing to a call by over 100 conservation groups for Congress to expand federal protection of land in the county’s northeast.

Nearly 8,700 acres would be designated as the Craggy Mountain Wilderness under the proposal, while 16,000 acres would be established as a new scenic area. A summary of the resolution available before the meeting notes that the new protections would “safeguard traditional local uses of the land, including hunting, fishing and horseback riding,” and that “all existing roads and trails will remain open to all current uses.”

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains just two items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Commissioners are slated to approve the board’s regular meeting minutes for April 7 and OK a fireworks display scheduled for Independence Day at the Big Ivy Community Center.

The commission will hold a pre-meeting at 3 p.m. to discuss upcoming business. 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, April 20, via email at comment@buncombecounty.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. 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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