Buncombe County continues its focus on early childhood education with an update from the Early Childhood Education & Development Committee scheduled for the county Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The 15-member committee’s main responsibility is to recommend spending from the county’s Early Childhood Education and Development Fund. This recurring budget allocation — established in 2018 at $3.6 million per year, with an annual increase of 2% — is meant to support access to child care and education, with an emphasis on pre-kindergarten. Through the current fiscal year, the fund has allocated $14.8 million.
The presentation, available on the board’s agenda prior to the meeting, focuses on the nearly $3.75 million awarded from the fund in fiscal year 2021-2022. Across 21 funded projects, according to the presentation, 71% of goals were met, with most shortfalls coming in enrollment, attendance and staffing targets. Quarterly reports for each project are available on the early childhood fund website.
Kindergarten readiness data for children in Buncombe County is also included in the update. This data comes from the N.C. Early Learning Inventory, a new assessment used by both Asheville and Buncombe County school systems at kindergarten entry. In the future, according to the presentation, the early childhood committee could evaluate grant projects through the impacts they have on readiness data.
The tool assesses 14 developmental measures, including seven objectives in early literacy, language and math. While 69% of all county children met or exceeded goals for the majority of those objectives, the data shows a racial disparity: 75% of white children met the targets, compared with just 56% of Black children.
In other news
Commissioners will hear recommended changes to insurance coverage for county employees. Potential tweaks include the addition of a high-deductible health plan option with a county-funded health saving plan. Adding that option would not increase employee premiums but would increase the county’s annual insurance costs by about $95,000 over the status quo.
Two budget amendments will also be voted on at the September 6 meeting. The first would accept over $388,000 in state funds to continue COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Work that could be funded includes paying for contract nurse vaccination staff, temporary communications staff, medical supplies and a mobile vaccination unit.
The second budget amendment carries funds forward from fiscal year 2021-22 to fiscal year 2022-2023. This represents money that the county had planned to spend last year but could not for various reasons, such as product shipping issues or delays in services. Carryforwards include over $5.3 million in general fund spending, with over $3 million of that being economic development incentive payments.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. That agenda includes the following highlights:
- Approval of a memorandum of understanding between county government and the county Board of Elections. The agreement would enable Buncombe’s human resources department to assist the Board of Elections in personnel matters while allowing the board to maintain authority over hiring, firing, promoting or demoting employees.
- A resolution approving interlocal agreements with Asheville and Woodfin for the Homeowner Grant Program. The two municipalities will supplement the county’s maximum $300 grant, available to lower-income residents for assistance with property taxes, with up to $200 per applicant.
- A resolution supporting a grant application from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization and Land of Sky Rural Planning Organization that seeks funds to develop a regional action plan for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets for All Program. The plan would support roadway safety across Buncombe and neighboring counties; it would also allow local governments to access a $5 billion pot of federal money for road projects
The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link. Prior to the regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners will hold a 3 p.m. briefing to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response, a proposed septic system repair program and a proposed affordable parking program for downtown workers.
In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in room 326 at 200 College St., Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and the regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.