Commissioners support independent air agency
“We have agreed, informally, that the air-pollution-control agency should … remain an autonomous board,” Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol proclaimed at the start of the board’s May 2 regular meeting.
Sobol noted that several commissioners will be meeting with Asheville City Council members to “hammer out” the details. The Western North Carolina Regional Air Pollution Control Agency will cease to exist in its current form, at the end of June, due to the withdrawal of Haywood County from the interlocal agreement that created the agency. The remaining partners in the agreement, Buncombe County and the city of Asheville, will be negotiating the creation of a new agency and board. (Also on May 2, Asheville City Council members voted unanimously to back an independent board and agency, instead of turning it over to the state or allowing Buncombe County to bring the agency in-house, as a county department.)
Sure, May has been dubbed Older Americans Month, but two local groups disagree on the appropriate funding levels for county programs for the elderly — and on who should be the lead agency for administering local programs.
Barbara St. Hilaire, who chairs the Aging Coordinating Consortium Chairperson reported at the Board of Commissioners’ May 2 meeting that the ACC’s Evaluation Committee recommends letting Buncombe County serve as the lead agency in that consortium (relieving the Council on Aging of that duty). St. Hilaire also noted that the Evaluation Committee wants to cut the funding for the Council on Aging’s Congregate Meal Program from last year’s $314,915 to $263,091. The committee, she said, had concluded that “some overhead could be cut” at the Council on Aging. St. Hilaire also argued against the practice of having a service-provider such as the Council on Aging also act as lead administrative agency for programs for the elderly and disabled.
But Council on Aging Executive Director Dick Patzfahl begged to differ. The council, he said, handles the paper work for a variety of programs “at no cost to the county.” Should Buncombe County take over that function, “It would be an additional cost,” he argued. Patzfahl also said the proposed cuts would mean that 36 fewer meals could be served per day.
St. Hilaire countered that a recent audit had shown that more meals are routinely being ordered than are actually consumed at several of these sites — and a few sites have such low attendance that consolidating them with other sites makes sense.
She also noted that, overall, the ACC is recommending a $35,000 increase in funding for elderly/disabled programs during the next fiscal year. The programs the ACC reviewed include the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Senior Companions, United Way’s Volunteer Program Development, Pisgah Legal Services’ Elder Law Services, Meals on Wheels, Mountain Housing Opportunities’ housing/home improvement program, Mountain CARE’s adult day-care center, Visiting Health Professionals’ in-home aide program, the Department of Social Services’ in-home aide program, Mountain Mobility (administered by the Council on Aging), the Office of Services for the Elderly, and the County Health Department’s proposed Medication Management, Bringing Nutrition Home and Mental Health programs.
St. Hilaire mentioned that about 39,000 of Buncombe County’s residents are over the age of 60. The majority (80 percent) of them are still active, and about 4,200 are over age 85 — a 40-percent increase in that age group since 1990. “Aging isn’t them vs. us. It’s us, on the spectrum of life,” she concluded.
A-B Tech asks $5.5 million
It’s budget time, and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College needs about $5.5 million from county coffers, President K. Ray Bailey informed the Board of Commissioners on May 2.
The bulk of those funds would support salaries and operating expenses at A-B Tech’s Victoria Road campus, said Bailey. The $4.38 million request represents an 8.05 percent increase over the school’s 1999-2000 request, he noted.
The other $1.13 million would be earmarked for the college’s new extended campus at the former BASF corporate headquarters for in Enka-Candler, continued Bailey. (The company donated the property to the school last year.) A-B Tech plans to revamp the facilities for use as a corporate training center (in conjunction with Western Carolina University) and a small-business incubator (in partnership with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission). Although A-B Tech plans to seek private donations and grant money to finance the bulk of these projects, funds are still needed for such start-up expenses as hiring groundskeepers and security personnel, and adapting the existing structures.
Commissioners took no formal action on Bailey’s request. But Commissioner David Young — who is vice chair of the Economic Development Commission — remarked that he hoped the board would help get things going, in the interest of economic development in the county.
DOT paves the way
It costs an average of $250,000 per mile to pave a road, Bob Crisp of the North Carolina Department of Transportation told commissioners at their May 2 meeting. With that in mind, he announced DOT’s plans to spend $3.4 million in Buncombe in the 2000-2001 fiscal year.
How does DOT choose which secondary, rural roads to pave? Crisp explained that roads are prioritized based on the amount of traffic they carry, whether there’s a school or church in the vicinity, how many homes are on a particular road, and whether school buses use the route. Points are awarded in each category, and the roads with the most points get the nod for the following year.
The top priority for the new fiscal year is a 4.87-mile stretch of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, Crisp reported (a $1.2 million project). In DOT’s subdivision category of secondary roads, Cassada Road topped the list, he continued. Other roads slated for paving include Amcel, Pine Knoll, Camp Elliott, White Rock Mine, Ballard Cove, McDaris, Patton Hill, Short Dix Creek, Water Tower, Stratford, North Fork, Garrison Branch #5, Piney Mountain and Pine Brook roads.
Funding for these paving projects comes from the state’s Highway Trust Fund (which stands $1.69 million) and Buncombe County’s Construction Fund (with $1.7 million currently in the coffers), Crisp noted.
Residents who’d like more specific information about scheduled road pavings can contact Ken Putnam at the DOT’s local district office (251-6171), Crisp mentioned.