Commissioners approve Pack Place funds

Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene (photo by Alicia Funderburk)

After an hour and a half of deliberation, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved funding for Pack Place for the new fiscal year, 2014-2015, though many questions linger.

“From the beginning, every nickel of county money was to support the nonprofits [in Pack Place],” said Board Chair David Gantt. “We want to make sure these institutions can be the best they can be. The heartburn I had is the numbers.”

Commissioners asked for further information on the state of the city of Asheville’s new agreement with Pack Place nonprofits and the money the county has poured into the organization since the late 1980s, when renovating the facility was a key component to revitalizing downtown Asheville. At the Board’s Aug. 5 meeting, County Manager Wanda Greene  had asked for direction on the issue after Asheville City Council voted unanimously July 22 to approve a controversial new arrangement that asks tenants to directly lease spaces in the building from the city itself.

Pack Place — home to the Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Threatre and Colburn Earth Science Museum — had previously been bulk-leased through the nonprofit Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center Inc.

At their Aug. 19 meeting, commissioners heard reports from Greene, Finance Director Donna Clark, and County Attorney Robert Deutsch on the details of the city’s July deal. The county has paid over $9.5 million into Pack Place since 1988, including roughly $2.5 million from 2009-2014. The city has paid $7.1 million into the institution, meanwhile, but $6.8 million of that was mostly on debt service from 1988-2008. The city has paid only $284,000 (a one-time payment in fiscal year 2011) since 2009.

Commissioners favored continuing to support Pack Place but were hesitant about future financing.

As for Gantt’s heartburn: “The whole thing was set up so that [the county and the city] put up the same amount of money, and now the county government has $9.5 million [in Pack Place], and the city has $7.1 million, and only $284,000 over the past six years,” he said. “We have more ownership than the city does if you look at the numbers.”

“We’re in the game,” said Commissioner Mike Fryar. “And we have to get it on equal terms with the city, because they’re not over here paying for this property, but we’re helping them pay for that property. Let’s get it on an even playing field.”

On a 7-0 vote, the Board passed the recommending funding request for 2014-2015 — $180,000 for maintenance, operations and repairs to be split among the nonprofits by square footage (unless those organizations come up with another alternative), as well as $185,000 in utility costs. The funding also includes payments to cover Pack Place expenses in July and August during the transition of the stewardship of the facility.

In other business:

  • The Board responded to the Aug. 5 request from several residents that the county “call” the bond for Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger —that is, draw on a required type of insurance that public officials have to have, and use that money to cover the cost of paid vacation time given to county employees who, unlike Reisinger’s staff, didn’t get time off during a February snow event. The Register of Deeds is required to have a surety bond not exceeding $50,000. County attorney Robert Deutsch explained that it would be imprudent to call the bond, as the bonds are meant more for covering financial obligations, that bond companies rarely pay and the cost of litigation would outweigh the recoverable amount and that the cost to Buncombe County is only a theoretical cost.
  • The Board pulled a resolution regarding a $1 million bond for the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department, calling for more deliberation and comment before moving forward. The bond would finance a new fire station and other department expenses.
  • Commissioners also unanimously approved a change to the zoning ordinance on Planned Development Units (PUDs), changing height restrictions and parking requirements to let them be based on need and not a number put down by law. The change would also require developers to put buffer zones between protected natural areas, such as steep slopes and the Blue Ridge Parkway overlay.
  • The Board named three people to three vacant board positions: Amanda Warren to the Historic Resources Commission, and Charlotte Wade and Cassandra Ingram to the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council.

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