Commissioners sign off on economic incentive changes, more preschool space and opioid lawsuit

BETTER CALL SAUL: Buncombe County commissioners selected a law firm to bring a suit against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the county.
BETTER CALL SAUL: Buncombe County commissioners selected a law firm to bring a suit against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the county. Xpress stock photo

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Despite not seeing eye-to-eye on other items during their Oct. 17 meeting, Buncombe County commissioners were unified in approving changes to the county’s economic development incentive policies, creating new preschool opportunities and tapping a law firm to file suit against opioid manufacturers.

Following suit

In preparation for starting litigation against the makers of painkillers, commissioners selected Mississippi-based McHugh Fuller Law Group, which is partnering with a consortium of other law firms and representing about 75 local governments in opioid-related suits in federal court.

The suit is in response to the rising level of opioid-related overdoses and deaths. Statistics from the N.C. Division of Public Health show that at the end of August, Buncombe County had 230 opioid-related emergency department visits. Last year, in the same period, the county had 84 such incidents, a 173 percent increase.

The firm will file and represent the suit on behalf of the county at no charge but will retain 30 percent of the proceeds in the event of a favorable outcome.

“Our community is devastated on a resource level as paramedics respond to overdoses and families lose loved ones. It’s a crisis,” said Commissioner Ellen Frost. “So I hope by engaging this firm they will be warriors for our community and get resources back to our community for treatment.”

Two other law firms responded to the county’s call for legal help in the matter. County staff attorney Brandon Freeman told commissioners that staff recommended McHugh Fuller Law Group because it’s ready to begin work immediately. “There is sometimes a benefit to being in the front of line on this. That is one thing we found attractive,” he explained. “If we went with another firm, there would be a planning stage before we could move forward.”

Michael Fuller, an attorney with McHugh Fuller, said, “We are out in front because we started this and have been pushing it. We built a team that can handle the massive cases, without delay.”

Fuller said a lawsuit could be filed as soon as next week.

Commissioners unanimously approved having McHugh Fuller Law Group take the case.

No small potatoes

Commissioners are signaling a shift in philosophy and priorities regarding how economic development incentive dollars will be doled out. While the baseline requirement of a $1.5 million investment of buildings, equipment and jobs to be considered for incentives remains unchanged, some incentive money will now be used to help small businesses get a leg up.

The current budget has almost $5 million set aside for such incentive packages, with just over $3 million of that committed to seven projects. Commissioners approved removing about $1.5 million from the overall $5 million pool, while also agreeing to approve incentives on a case-by-case basis rather than allocating an estimated amount for the year.

From the savings generated by the change, commissioners tabbed $200,000 for small-business loans and $250,000 for preschool expansion efforts. County staff added that minority businesses will be given preference in regard to the loans.

County Planner Jon Creighton outlined changes to the policy, with the most significant being the amount a business must pay its employees in order to be eligible for incentives. Wages must start at, or reach within four years, 100 percent of the county’s average wage rate ($20.93 per hour), with incentives increasing as salaries increase.

Further, the county will pony up more incentives for employers paying 50 percent or more of child care expenses for their workforces. Applicants for incentives must provide a schedule on when investments will be made and jobs created, along with policies on workforce diversity and company sustainability practices.

“The economy is good. Buncombe County is a desirable place to locate to. Do we need to pay incentives as high as we’ve paid in the past? This equates with good times,” said Creighton of the more stringent incentive requirements.

Last year, Commission Chair Brownie Newman campaigned on raising the wage required to qualify for incentives, as well as bringing small businesses into the economic development fold. “In the past we’ve had great projects, but they weren’t really raising the wages in the community. This new policy clearly only contemplates considering partnerships where we raise wages in community,” he said before commissioners unanimously approved the incentive tweaks.

Wage-Incentive Matrix
PAY TO PLAY: The above chart shows wage ranges and how much each job within that range is worth in regard to new county economic development incentives. Graph courtesy of Buncombe County

Preschool partner

Piggybacking on a recent work session focused on how to expand preschool offerings, commissioners took another step toward incrementally increasing preschool offerings for county families.

The latest move will utilize space at the Lonnie D. Burton Child Development Center for 18 additional preschool slots. The plan will cost the county $40,000, but that amount was previously allocated for a preschool initiative that ultimately offset its costs with grant money, thereby freeing the dollar up for this purpose.

County staff said while it might be challenging to find staff for the classroom with the school year already underway, the intent is to have children in the new spots as soon as possible.

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners discussed county staff pay cuts and moving the county toward 100 percent renewable energy. Xpress recapped those issues in a previous article here.

You can watch the entire Oct. 17 meeting here.

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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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2 thoughts on “Commissioners sign off on economic incentive changes, more preschool space and opioid lawsuit

  1. BMacAVL

    Our society as a whole are dealing with the opioid epidemic that has been primarily caused by the FDA allowing Big Pharma to push pain killers as “THE” best and only legal substance federally to treat chronic pain(cancer, traumatic injuries, arthritis, or surgical repairs). Then starting in 1995 with the introduction of instant release oxycodone designer drug OxyContin we all witnessed more and more cases of abuse instantly from over medicating, snorting, or injecting the drug. “Purdue, 100% owned by the Sacklers, has generated estimated sales of more than $35 billion since releasing its time-released, supposedly addiction-proof version of the painkiller oxycodone back in 1995.”(a)

    Fast forward a couple years later and the US invades Afghanistan where over 90% of the worlds opium is grown through claiming that “THE” terrorist group who orchestrated the “attacks” on 9/11/01 needed to be stopped because of secret mobile labs to build “weapons of mass destruction(in my best G. W. Bush voice)” intended for future attacks which they never actually end up finding.

    On October 8th of the same year our government launched “operation enduring freedom” which the media claimed to be the only way from stopping al qaeda/bin ladin from training special forces and building WOMD…during that time our own government essentially seized control of the entire opium/heroin market worldwide all while more US military personal than ever before in the history of this planet came back with life threatening injuries and/or PTSD treated by antidepressants along with access to pain medication like OxyContin. Mixing the two substances has killed countless people leaving families completely devastated and no access to alternative methods for dealing with the loss beyond substance abuse or intensive counseling which is not accessible or at all affordable in most communities.

    “In 2007, Purdue paid $635 million in fines after pleading guilty to false marketing charges by the Department of Justice. (Sackler family members were never charged.)”(b) Fast forward to 2010 when the FDA approved a new version of OxyContin which was suppose to stop people abusing the drug through snorting or injecting…turns out the outside coating that is suppose to stop the abuse could be removed very easily removed and was a total bust according to most of the folks I know who continued abusing the substance(I grew up in Florida/Pill Mill Central).

    “Here’s another problem. There’s an alternative, surefire opioid to turn to if supplies of crushable/snortable/injectible OxyContin and Percocet fall short: heroin. Heroin can be cheaper and, by its illicit nature, cannot be re-engineered as “abuse-resistant.” Eight thousand people in the US died of heroin overdoses in 2013 — that figure not only runs side-by-side with the rise of opioid medication abuse, but it’s one that has tripled since 2010. Together, prescription opioids and heroin were accountable for 28,000 deaths in 2014. Much has been reported in recent years on the rise of heroin abuse in the US among all demographics, but teens are notably vulnerable in highlighting the relationship between prescription painkillers and heroin: 75% of high school heroin abusers started with prescription opioids.”(c)

    Now that herion is cheaper and much more accessible than Oxy the crisis will not end anytime soon but will probably get worse if our judicial system and privatized prison system changes. Take a look at the Netflix produced special called HERION(E) about Huntington, WV. When will the GREEDY people stop profiting off of others pain?

    Well, some “conspiracy theories” out now are linking our US government control of opium is the modern day form of controlling the population…if voters are addicted they are less likely to see beyond the media(FCC’s) bullsh*t claiming the two party system allows for a choice…when in reality it is still a douche and turd sandwich fighting over the 3 branches of government…they are the same government so we really have no choice when everything boils down in the end.

    a & b = https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexmorrell/2015/07/01/the-oxycontin-clan-the-14-billion-newcomer-to-forbes-2015-list-of-richest-u-s-families/#42495c3f75e0
    c = https://www.thrillist.com/health/nation/history-of-oxycontin-oxycodone-addiction-in-america

    Great Article to check out if you want more details: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a12775932/sackler-family-oxycontin/

    • bsummers

      And then Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump names as his new head of the Drug Enforcement Agency… The congressman who was the chief sponsor of a bill that lets Purdue and other drug makers off the hook for knowingly selling those drugs to the black market!! The DE frikkin A!

      Hmmm… You may be onto something there.

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