Money for flood recovery and housing rehabilitation were the principal issues on the table during Buncombe County Board of Commissioners abbreviated May 3 meeting.
During a public hearing concerning a community development block grant for disaster recovery, Planner Cynthia Barcklow explained that the county is eligible to apply for $600,000 in state funds to assist low-income households still dealing with damage from last September’s floods. “Anyone suffering damage should complete the application form online as soon as possible,” she noted. (Follow the links under Disaster Recovery Efforts at www.buncombecounty.org.)
Swannanoa resident Eric Gorny asked: “Does this include any long-term financing? Will the county be held liable for future payments?”
Barcklow replied: “No. It’s a one-shot deal.”
Without further discussion, the four commissioners in attendance unanimously approved the grant application. Vice Chairman David Gantt was out of town.
A second community development block grant, this one for housing rehab, was the subject of another public hearing. “We are proposing to re-allocate 10 percent of this funding for emergency repairs,” explained Lucy Crown of the Planning and Development Department, adding, “This is permitted under the program.” These funds are normally used to help low-income homeowners pay for routine maintenance.
Gorny repeated his question about long-term liability, received the same answer, and the re-allocation was unanimously approved.
A third public hearing dealt with a new ordinance governing mobile homes built before 1976. The proposed law would prohibit relocating such trailers, unless the owner or a member of the owner’s immediate family is living in them. Permits and Inspections Supervisor Matt Stone explained that the federal law mandating minimum safety standards for mobile homes had taken effect in 1976; earlier models, he said, might be damaged or have uninspected wiring, windows too small for egress and other serious defects. Most WNC counties in the region now have similar ordinances, said Stone.
There was some public discussion about the language of the ordinance and the cost to heirs unable to sell such dwellings. Commissioner David Young asked about the value of 30-year-old mobile homes, and Stone said they’re typically valued at about $1,000 by the owners on documents submitted to his office.
Young then asked what it costs the county to remove abandoned trailers (see “Full Retreat,” Jan. 26 Xpress). Planning Director Jon Creighton said it costs between $1,200 and $1,400 per home.
The ordinance was approved 4-0.
Delivering a report for County Manager Wanda Greene, County Attorney Joe Connolly commented on the lawsuit filed by two media corporations charging that the preceding week’s closed-door water negotiations violated North Carolina’s open-meetings law (see “A private meeting and a public failure,” May 4 Xpress). Connolly reiterated that neither he nor City Attorney Bob Oast believes the meetings were illegal. Referring to a May 2 hearing on the suit, Connolly said: “The judge took it under advisement. The next step will be a trial.”
While offering his opinion that as a public body, the Board of Commissioners should reach agreement in a public forum, Connolly also said, “I do not believe that the Legislature intended that we not be able to discuss these matters in order to reach a solution.”
On May 4, Superior Court Judge James U. Downs refused to grant a temporary injunction against holding such secret meetings in the future. But his ruling didn’t address the question of whether the county and city broke the law, and the judge could call a full hearing at any time, according to Gary Rowe, the attorney for the plaintiffs.
“For the record,” noted Chairman Nathan Ramsey, “the county is at $40,000 in outside legal fees [from the water negotiations], and the city is reportedly at $60,000. So we’re into $100,000 and we haven’t even gotten started yet.”
Board appointments and a distant voice
Before adjourning, the commissioners made several appointments: Commissioner Carol Peterson to the A-B Tech board of trustees, Donald Ramsey (no relation to the chairman) to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee and Bill McElrath to the Social Services Board. Chairman Ramsey noted that there are still four vacancies on the nursing-home committee and encouraged citizens to volunteer for those positions.
At that point, the board wanted to go into closed session to discuss a legal matter, and — deeming it advisable to have the full board involved in the decision — the county attorney dialed Vice Chairman Gantt’s cell-phone number. Gantt’s disembodied voice then joined the proceedings via speakerphone, and the board unanimously voted to exclude the public.
The open session, meanwhile, was continued to May 10, because bids on artificial turf for the county and school-system soccer fields were not expected to arrive until May 9, and approval of the low bid was needed before the May 17 regular session.