If you’re over 65 (or disabled) and make very little money, Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners wants you to get a bigger break on your property taxes.
At their March 7 regular meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a resolution urging the North Carolina General Assembly to raise the income cap and property-value exemption for seniors and the disabled. Currently, those over 65 or disabled who have annual incomes of up to $15,000, don’t have to pay taxes on the first $20,000 worth of property they own. Commissioners have petitioned the General Assembly to raise those figures to a $20,000 income cap and a $50,000 property-value exclusion, Buncombe County Tax Director Jerome Jones reported.
Since it’s an election year, the question of who should get credit for the idea loomed large: Moments before commissioners voted on the resolution, board candidate Mike Morgan tried to get Chairman Tom Sobol‘s attention so that he could speak. Sobol ignored him, however, calling for the vote. Then, Sobol told Morgan that the matter had already been voted on.
Nevertheless, Morgan spoke out, saying he had started talking to Jones about such a tax reduction for the elderly two years ago. Morgan also remarked, “I’d like to see [senior citizens] totally exempted from those [property] taxes.”
Later in the meeting, County Attorney Joe Connolly noted that the board’s rules do not require the chair to allow public comment before a formal vote. He said the issue is at the chair’s discretion and, “If the chair does not see someone who wishes to speak, the [board] can go ahead and vote.”
Commissioners anticipate that the General Assembly will vote on the tax-break proposal this summer. If passed, it would be implemented incrementally, the income cap increasing by $1,000 each year and the property-value exemption by $10,000 per year, starting in 2001. Commissioners have also asked state legislators to help make up the lost revenues (about $1 million over the next few years, in Buncombe alone), should the proposal pass. If the property in question is sold or transferred, the excluded taxes come due.
Buncombe County resident Jerry Rice urged the commissioners to do a better job of getting the word out to seniors who might be eligible for the tax break.
Clearing the air
Does Haywood County’s recent abrupt exit from the WNC Regional Air Pollution Control Agency nullify the “interlocal agreement” that is the agency’s legal basis?
“Anyone dropping out terminates the agreement,” Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene told commissioners on March 7. She reported that county staff are reviewing several options, after learning that Haywood will back out of the agreement as of July 1. Those options include: handing over the agency’s permitting and enforcement duties to the state; creating a new agreement with other municipalities and counties (Haywood, Buncombe and the city of Asheville have been partners in the agency); appointing an air-pollution advisory board for Buncombe, to be administered by the Buncombe County Board of Health; or naming the Board of Health itself as the county’s air-polution-control board. Staff will report to commissioners on these options on April 4, said Greene.
Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Patsy Keever noted: “They’ve got a good board now. I hope we can keep [the current board members] involved.”
Heavily criticized in recent years for such practices as warning companies of impending inspections, the APCA has made significant procedural changes in the wake of last year’s audit by the state. Among other things, inspections are now unannounced.
Saving Buzzard Rock
Ever seen a Georgia hackberry? A rock mock-orange? Catesby’s clematis? These and other rare or uncommon plants can be found on the 79-acre parcel that includes Buzzard Rock, Ed Norvell of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina told commissioners on March 7.
To protect such plants and preserve the spot in its natural state, commissioners voted unanimously to sell it to the Trust, which County Clerk Kathy Hughes called “the highest and best use for the property.”
County staff had reviewed the possibility of creating a park on the site, but deemed it too isolated for proper maintenance and monitoring, and too expensive to develop as a park, noted Hughes. The Conservation Trust offered $220,000 for the land, and commissioners took it.
Said Commissioner David Gantt, “[The Trust]’s number-one goal is to keep the property adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway for everyone to enjoy and … never be developed.”
Pick It Up 2000
“Do you know why people still litter like they do?” Buncombe County Commissioner David Gantt asked organizers of the Pick It Up 2000 campaign.
Everyone in the commissioners’ chambers laughed — acknowledging, perhaps, the impossibility of answering the question.
Buncombe County Environmental Control Officer Jane Cole replied that folks don’t think about what they’re doing when they toss trash out the window. But when it comes to the nearly 80 illegal dump sites the county cleans up each year — more than 12,000 tires were hauled away this past year alone — “People know what they’re doing. You don’t accidentally throw out a mattress or a refrigerator out your window,” added Cole.
That leaves the rest of us to clean things up, and that’s where the statewide Clean NC 2000 campaign comes in, Rick Ramsey told commissioners. Ramsey, the county’s other environmental-control officer, filled commissioners in on the local effort, Pick It Up 2000: Help Keep Buncombe County Clean, which is supported by staff help from Cole, Denise Ballew and Roger Pressley. A centerpiece of the campaign is a call-to-action video created by Asheville High School senior Katie Cummings. Commissioners viewed the video, praising Cummings and county staff for their work; the video was also featured at Gov. Jim Hunt’s recent litter summit in Haywood County.
Vice Chair Patsy Keever gave special thanks to Pressley, who enforces the county’s junk-car ordinance (more than 1,000 vehicles have been hauled off in the past 18 months), saying: “I know I’m not getting the phone calls [about junk cars that] I used to. Thank you.”
Pick It Up 2000 includes a series of roadside cleanups (to take place during March 10-20), cash rewards for junk-car recycling, and free disposal of used oil and pesticides at the North Carolina National Guard Armory on Highway 191 (Wednesday, March 15 from 9 a.m.-noon). Call Buncombe County Environmental Control (250-5461) for more information.
A case of mistaken identity
In Buncombe County, it’s not unusual for different streets to share the same name. But in the case of Israel Road, that confusion proved fatal: According to West Asheville resident Ken Higgins, an ambulance responding to a heart-attack emergency mistakenly came up his Israel Road, instead of the other one. The victim died, Higgins told commissioners, urging them to accept his petition to rename his road Remington Drive. Why that particular name? Well, there’s famous Western artist Frederick Remington … and then there’s the fact that Higgins likes Remington rifles. Commissioners unanimously agreed to the change.
Montford land for single-family homes
In a unanimous decision on March 7, commissioners donated a 1.2-acre lot on Montford Avenue to Neighborhood Housing Services. According to NHS Director Douglas McRae, up to eight moderately priced single-family homes will be built on the property. The county foreclosed on the lot more than a year ago, because of $1,000 owed in back taxes. No buyers stepped forward when the property was offered for auction on the courthouse steps, noted County Clerk Kathy Hughes.
Topping the minority goal
“No set-asides, no quotas: We have goals [for contracts with minority-owned businesses], and Buncombe County has exceeded [them],” Asheville-Buncombe Minority Affairs Director Mamie Scott told commissioners on March 7. In the last fiscal quarter, 37 percent of the county’s expenditures for procurement, professional services, construction contracts and other services went to certified minority businesses, reported Scott. That’s roughly triple the goal set in the joint city/county Minority Business Plan, enacted several years ago.
Commissioners reported that the schedule for their April meetings has been amended: They’ll meet on the first two Tuesdays (April 4 and 11), instead of the first and third Tuesdays, as usual.