The board giveth, and the board taketh away — or at least withholdeth some.
That’s essentially what the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners did at their Jan. 16 meeting, as members considered several weighty topics.
The issue that generated the most controversy was the commissioners’ decision to authorize the purchase of property on South Lexington Avenue to be used as a work-release center. (See cover story on page 8 for complete details.)
But the board also tackled other requests in their four-hour meeting, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 75 people.
City and county public safety officers walked away happy after the board voted to follow staff recommendations to spend up to $3 million to buy a a new criminal justice information system from Open Software Solutions Inc., a Greensboro company.
The city and county will share in the costs for the system, Buncombe County Director of Information Technology John Richard noted after the meeting. The current interlocal agreement divvies up the cost between the city (45 percent) and the county (55 percent), he said.
The new system would replace the one installed by BIS Computer Solutions, a California company that is embroiled in a lawsuit with the county.
The system will allow more information to be shared between local public-safety agencies, and those agencies will have an easier time accessing needed records. Participating agencies will include the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, the Asheville Police and Fire Departments, the City-County Identification Bureau (which handles finger printing and criminal records), the Emergency Operations Center, the magistrate’s office and the district attorney’s office, reported Criminal Justice Information Center Project Manager Kathy Glass.
For example, the system will allow EMS workers to find out whether the police have been sent to the address to which they’ve been dispatched that same day, Richard said. That would allow the EMS workers to decide whether to ask for a police escort.
Another benefit is that the system should reduce the need for dispatchers to broadcast information over police radio, says Lt. David Rutledge of the Asheville Police Department. Instead, the information can be sent directly to the officer’s laptop computer. The officer will also be able to download mug shots of suspects, as well as complete reports in the field.
“It makes our officers safer doing their job,” Police Chief Will Annarino noted later.
Once a contract is signed, it could take two years or more to get all of the system’s “modules” or sections on line, Richard said.
Although the commissioners originally had wanted to use local vendor Interact Computer Systems, they came to the conclusion that the company’s system wouldn’t meet their needs.
Commissioner David Young (as chairman of the Economic Development Commission) had requested that staff members take another look at the local vendor before making a final recommendation. County Manager Wanda Greene added that the decision was delayed for approximately three months so that Interact’s system could be checked out again.
On another public-safety note, the commissioners unanimously agreed to spend $18,000 on a deputy’s position to coordinate security at county buildings. The proposal, explained Greene, came in light of last year’s scare when a gunman entered the Buncombe County Health Center.
The commissioners also unanimously agreed to spend $13,000 to re-key locks at the Health Center, the Department of Social Services and other county office areas. The money will also pay for the move of an information/security kiosk to the center of the Health Center’s waiting area, Greene said.
The commissioners turned down a request from Rebecca Lamb, executive director of the Western North Carolina Historical Association, to designate Biltmore High School as a local historic landmark.
The association is trying to raise enough money to buy the property from the county so it can open the site as a museum. Lamb told the board that seeking the designation would allow the society a better shot at receiving grant funds.
But Greene told the board she was concerned that if the deal falls through, such a move would tie the county’s hands if it tried to sell the property in the future. So far, the society has raised almost $1.1 million of the $1.8 million it needs to purchase the property by the county’s end-of-February deadline.
The commissioners — though proclaiming themselves sympathetic — decided not to grant permission to seek the designation. Gantt gave the association words of encouragement toward achieving their goal.
“Everybody’s rooting for you to do it,” he said.
The board also heard a request from the Erwin High Boosters Club for $25,000 to resurface the high-school track, which member Mike Summey noted gets heavy community use.
Summey reported that if the boosters club doesn’t get county help, the school will be forced to close the track to the public and limit its use to students. Currently, the track is in such bad shape that the school can’t host home track meets.
He was supported by the school’s principal and athletic director, and several members of the community who use the track.
The commissioners decided to refer the matter to the Buncombe County Recreation Services Advisory Board for a recommendation.
The board spent about 20 minutes in a closed session to discuss three economic development items, a potential legal matter and a lawsuit. The meeting was recessed until 4 p.m. on Jan. 30 in the county’s training room, 191 College St. (where the board will hold its budget retreat).