Commissioners shelve anti-opioid efforts, approve preschool expansion

Before their meeting, commissioners celebrated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the courtyard outside the county building.
Before their meeting, commissioners celebrated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the courtyard outside the county building. Photo by Dan Hesse

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners gave a push to one of its identified top priorities while tabling another during its meeting Tuesday, April 4. Commissioners approved a measure to expand preschool offerings but held off on approving funding they pledged toward community paramedics and a media campaign aimed at curtailing opioid use.

Preschool push

Commissioners unanimously approved leasing a county-owned building to Eliada Home so the nonprofit can make more preschool spots available. Eliada Home currently runs a variety of preschool offerings, and the land being leased is already on its campus.

The nonprofit states the building will provide 60 additional preschool spaces by August. Those slots would make room for 18 infants, 14 2-year-olds and 28 pre-kindergarten children, with priority being given to kids with disabilities and those from low-income homes, according to the nonprofit. Eliada Home currently serves 152 children in various preschool programs.

The 2.08-acre parcel is at 32 Compton Drive. Commissioners approved putting it up for sale last year after county staff indicated potential buyers had inquired about the property. However, the county never received any bids on the land. The lease is for 10 years, and the county is charging $1 per year.

Earlier this year, Xpress published an in-depth report about the push to expand access to preschool. You can read that story here.

Opioid obstacles

Last month, commissioners pledged to fund three community paramedics and a media awareness campaign to combat opioid use. While support has not wavered for those efforts, the sense of immediacy has been questioned. At issue is a unanimous desire to investigate more best practices, talk with a larger pool of community leaders and research whether the funding will have the desired effect. The total cost for those two programs would have been $171,250 for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Commissioner Mike Fryar opened the dialogue by noting he wants to fund the aforementioned initiatives in next fiscal year’s budget. “The more I look at different things, the more I see people are doing things we don’t know about. We as commissioners need to figure out what we need to do,” he said, adding that he wants more involvement from community leaders.

Commissioner Joe Belcher said the opioid epidemic is an emotional issue and commissioners need to be deliberate in how they move forward. “I’ve had concerns. I want to make sure we don’t step out and experiment spending money that might not be necessary,” said Belcher. “There are so many partners we are going to have to call on. It’s going to be bigger than an advertising campaign. I don’t think we really know what it’s going to look like.”

While commissioners agreed to table both efforts, Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara added the caveat that if studies show community paramedics can be immediately effective, she would like to find funding for it in the current budget.

Commissioner Al Whitesides echoed the sentiment for commissioners to be judicious with funding of anti-opioid programs. “We’ve got to stop and think because it’s important we get the biggest bang for our buck. These are taxpayer dollars, and we need to be conscious of that,” he noted.

Ultimately, commissioners agreed to investigate more best practices and gather more research while pledging to make room for the efforts in the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

In January and February, there were 150 calls to county Emergency Medical Services connected to overdoses, with 20 of those resulting in fatalities. Additionally, the use of Narcan (an overdose reversal drug) is significantly on the rise, with county personnel administering the drug 44 times in 2011 and 159 times last year.

Earlier this year, Xpress published an in-depth report on Buncombe County’s opioid crisis and the fight to frame addiction as a public health issue rather than a crime. You can read that story here.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will next meet Tuesday, April 18.

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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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