Commissioners approve budget; ax proposed tax cut, gun range

COUNTY BUDGET APPROVED: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a $413,574,951 budget along party lines during its Tuesday, June 21, meeting. Pictured are Democratic Commissioners Holly Jones, David Gantt, Brownie Newman and Ellen Frost.
COUNTY BUDGET APPROVED: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a $413,574,951 budget along party lines during its Tuesday, June 21, meeting. Pictured are Democratic Commissioners Holly Jones, David Gantt, Brownie Newman and Ellen Frost.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a $413,574,951 budget, but not before a proposed tax decrease and an outdoor gun range failed to get approval during the more than five-hour meeting on Tuesday, June 21.

The spending plan for fiscal year 2017 holds the property tax rate at 60.4 cents per $100 of valued property. However, property tax revaluations were approved earlier this year, and reassessed real estate property values are slated to be delivered in January.

Overall, the county’s three biggest expenditures are education, public safety and human services.

Before finalizing the budget, Commissioner Tim Moffitt, a Republican, floated an alternate budget that would take advantage of Senate Bill 888, a measure the General Assembly recently approved that allows the county to restructure school-based debt and freed up about $5 million for the county. Highlights of Moffitt’s budget included reducing the property tax rate by 1 cent, giving raises to teacher assistants and asking Buncombe County Schools to use its $12 million reserve fund to pay for teacher raises.

BCS Superintendent Tony Baldwin addressed commissioners and said they are not required by state law to maintain that reserve fund but says he does so as a “best practice” in order to have a month’s worth of operating expenses in case of an emergency.

Commissioner Ellen Frost, a Democrat, said the property tax decrease would only save tax payers $20 on a $200,000 home and noted her constituents favor funding education more than an incremental tax decrease.

Moffitt’s budget failed by a vote of 3-4 with Democrats Frost, David Gantt, Holly Jones and Brownie Newman voting against it.

Newman then proposed approving a budget that kept the original tax rate, provides $500,000 for teacher assistants at BCS and Asheville City Schools, calls for an increase in local teacher supplements over two years with $1.6 million going to both districts in FY 2017 and bumps up greenway spending by $100,000 to a total of $400,000.

Increasing the local teacher supplements addresses a concern that BCS is struggling to attract and retain educators because its salaries aren’t competitive with neighboring school districts.

Moffit said, “I like the budget but … I think it’s incumbent on us, as elected officials, when we have surpluses … and have an opportunity to return that back to them; regardless of it’s $10 or $20, it’s important that we do so.”

Gantt, who is not seeking re-election, said, “This is my 20th and last budget, and it’s an amazing process. … There’s a lot of factors we have no control over such as state and federal [legislation], and we have to respond to that. … It’s not perfect. It’s not what I would have done line by line. … But it’s a good budget, and I think it’s got what we need to make Buncombe County a better place to live.”

Commissioners approved the budget by a 4-3 vote with Commissioners Joe Belcher, Mike Fryar and Moffitt voting against it. FY 2017 starts July 1.

Guns vs. art

Commissioners also voted down a measure to supplant $500,000 from the Asheville Art Museum to an outdoor firing range. The resolution, spearheaded by Fryar, had pointed wording stating, “The Asheville Art Museum continues to ask for funding to renovate the Pack Place and expand the museum, but has not made significant progress to accomplish this project without creating further burden on county taxpayers.”

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission would also match the funding with its own $500,000 contribution for the target range.

“We have 11,600 people in Buncombe County that carry concealed weapons,” said Fryar, citing the need for a gun range. He argued money for the museum is “giving the city more property at no cost to them” and then questioned the organization’s sustainability adding, “I haven’t seen the Grove Park Inn go bankrupt and stand in here asking for money.”

Fryar added that he feels sorry for the victims of mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Orlando, Fla., but added, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That statement garnered outbursts from several people in attendance, leading Gantt to gavel down onlookers and threaten any further disruptions with removal from the meeting.

Frost then raised an objection to the gun range, saying there was no location selected, no business plan or a reason for the outdoor gun range. “I have horses. Should the government put up a stable for people to ride? I mean, this is absurd,” she said.

“Anything is absurd to you. It’s absurd that you decided we needed sheds for horses,” countered Fryar.

Jones then noted the local community is still mourning the victims of the Orlando shooting and said, “This is really poorly, poorly timed. I ache for the people that this touches too close to home for. I’m sorry for that pain and angst that has been put upon you.”

County staff members noted, in the past, they spent more than a year searching for a location for an outdoor gun range but couldn’t find a suitable location where neighbors didn’t object to the project. The motion failed by a vote of 3-4 with Frost, Gantt, Jones and Newman voting against it.

Nonprofit public hearings

Former Buncombe County Commissioners Carol Peterson and Ray Bailey present a pitch for funding on behalf of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.
FUNDING REQUEST: Former Buncombe County Commissioners Carol Peterson and K. Ray Bailey present a pitch for funding on behalf of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.

 

Over the course of 13 public hearings, leaders of various community nonprofits stated their case for funding in the now-approved budget for FY 2017. The organizations and amounts requested and approved are as follows:

  • Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project: $30,000 requested — $27,500 approved
  • Asheville Area Arts Council: $35,000, requested — $20,000 approved
  • Asheville Art Museum: $2,175,000, requested — $225,000 approved
  • Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission: $75,000 requested — $30,000 approved
  • Asheville Downtown Association: $25,000 requested — $25,000 approved
  • Colburn Earth Science Museum (Asheville Museum of Science): $175,000 requested — $75,000 approved
  • Economic Development Coalition: $300,000 requested — $300,000 approved
  • Folk Heritage Committee: $4,275 requested — $4,275 approved
  • Just Economics: $15,000 requested — $12,500 approved
  • Pack Square Cultural Partnership: $395,000 requested — $350,000 approved
  • The Support Center: $100,000 requested — $50,000 approved
  • WNC Communities: $45,000 requested — $35,000 approved
  • YMI Cultural Center: $40,000 requested — $40,000 approved

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will not convene again until Aug. 2.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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14 thoughts on “Commissioners approve budget; ax proposed tax cut, gun range

  1. bsummers

    Commissioners also voted down a measure to supplant $500,000 from the Asheville Art Museum to an outdoor firing range.

    Good – how incredibly insensitive this was coming so close after Orlando. But anyway, if a small group people want to play with guns, let them pay for a firing range themselves.

    Art appeals to a broader audience, and only does good for Asheville’s reputation and appeal. On the other hand, how many tourists will come here and spend money because “hey, did you hear – Buncombe County has a firing range!”

      • The Real World

        Tell you what…..when Hillary and Bill and Bernie tell their Secret Service guys to ditch their guns….then we can talk. But, they jolly-well want guns around themselves…..they just don’t want us to have them. Look, hypocrites…imagine that.

        • bsummers

          What’s that got to do with the GOP double-standard on guns? Gun-free zones are the problem, they say. (Except when it’s our convention, that is…).

          • The Real World

            Read my comment again….pause and digest. The double-standard exists with Billary and Bernie as well.

            Now, let’s not get started on the topic of double-standards and the Clintons. Cuz I’ll be shooting fish in barrel (pun intended).

          • bsummers

            Got it. You’ll change the subject to keep from addressing my question. Thanks.

          • The Real World

            No, you changed the subject b/c you’re unwilling to acknowledge the arrogant double-standard of the elites on the Left.

            That article is just plain stupid and was clearly written by someone with a 16 year old brain.

            I thought you would figure it out for yourself upon further reflection. Apparently not, you just let that dippy “journalist” hijack your brain. Here: BOTH conventions will NOT be gun-free zones. There will be plenty of trained and armed security at both. It will be their job to shoot some errant lunatic. So there is no need for any attendees to carry arms. One more time — it’s because there will be plenty of trained, armed personnel tasked with security.

            Go ahead and top off this comment string, Barry, I’m sure you need to.

          • bsummers

            No, you changed the subject b/c you’re unwilling to acknowledge the arrogant double-standard of the elites on the Left.

            Your “double-standard on the left” argument makes no sense, is why I ignored it. I point out hypocrisy on the right (gun-free is bad, but oops, not when it’s just Republicans in the room, then yay! gun-free), and you won’t even acknowledge it if I don’t agree with “Oh yeah, what about Hillary, huh?” Nonsense.

            So there is no need for any attendees to carry arms.

            Tell that to the 55,000+ people who have signed a petition demanding that the GOP convention allow open carry.

            https://www.change.org/p/quicken-loans-arena-allow-open-carry-of-firearms-at-the-quicken-loans-arena-during-the-rnc-convention-in-july-2

            It’s crazytown, the whole thing. Guns guns guns. We’re the embarrassment of the world, with all our mass shootings. And the response from the people who make money and get votes from gun owners is, “MORE GUNS!!!!” Sad and embarrassing.

    • The Real World

      I seriously doubt that it is a small portion of the Buncombe population who own guns. The number stated above is for concealed carry permits. My guess is that 90% of households have one or more guns.

      All gun owners need to practice. But, that is their responsibility (yes, those do exist!) and there’s no reason taxpayers should fund it. Let a firing range operate as a business and be self-sustaining.

      • boatrocker

        By all means, I would ask you to address both the the GOP and NRA’s policy of gun free zones during their events as have others here.
        Waiting… tapping foot, cobwebs, etc.

        After watching “American Sniper” and then reading the book, I had an ‘ohhhh, hypocrisy’ moment when recalling comments like
        “if only others around them had been armed” after reading that Chris Kyle was gunned down on a gun range. If only there were more guns there. Good guys taking out bad guys, etc.
        Chris Kyle, for reading his ‘autobiography’ struck me as a rabid xenophobic, Islamophobic, under-educated white trash TX dog on a chain, nothing more who also has been found out to lie about his kill numbers for being a ‘heroic’ sniper. One thing I will say in his favor is that he was a hunter.

        Gun owners who desire a local shooting range to practice:
        Schools, Planned Parenthood clinics (“no more baby parts!”), black churches, gay bars in FLA- really? Those aren’t enough target practice for you? Is ‘spray and pray’ not enough?

      • bsummers

        I concede the point – the number cited above is for CC owners. Lots more people in Buncombe own guns than that.

        • Big Al

          How about some statistics on how many people actually visit the fancy Art Museum annually? This is probably the best example of big money thrown at a small group of wine-and-cheese-eating elitists that one could find in Buncombe county. Yet when modest cuts are made, local LibDems respond like we are throwing the homeless out of their shelters.

  2. Moffit said, “I like the budget but … I think it’s incumbent on us, as elected officials, when we have surpluses … and have an opportunity to return that back to them; regardless of it’s $10 or $20, it’s important that we do so.”

    But Timmy, YOU ARE NOT AN ELECTED OFFICIAL…. you were appointed to fill a position left vacant by “G-no-P” quitter DeBruhl.

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