Buncombe County Commission

In what she calls a “hiring freeze,” County Manager Wanda Greene effectively fired five Buncombe County employees in recent months by eliminating their positions.

“We need to look at saving as much money as we can save,” Greene told Mountain Xpress. “We need to look at every position to make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts.”

She insisted the cuts are not related to budget problems, and that the county is operating within its current budget. “We’re not in financial trouble,” she said.

Greene told the commissioners, back in March during a public session, that she planned to axe the jobs. In April, Don Yelton lost his job as the county’s waste-reduction specialist; the position will be combined with another one in the county’s Solid Waste Department, Greene announced during a commissioners’ meeting in April.

Three county lab technicians at the Health Center and a central records clerk also have lost their jobs.

Late last year, 18 employees accepted an early retirement package. Greene said she has asked all county departments to “consider where jobs are duplicated.”

Resident Harold DeBruhl, speaking during the public-comment portion of the May 5 commissioners’ meeting, said the news “spread like wildfire through county employees.” He asked what effect the changes are having on the county budget, but Greene said she didn’t know the impact yet.

Greene also told the Xpress that she hasn’t decided when she’ll end this “hiring freeze.”

More money-saving ideas

Not deterred by the loss of his job, Yelton spoke up during the public-comment period of the May 5 meeting to offer another idea. He suggested the county could save money by reconsidering a February request for $100,000 to help fix the Vanderbilt Apartments, which the county is considering giving in the next fiscal year.

According to the apartment building’s board, the Vanderbilt’s brick facade has come loose, and passersby could be endangered by falling bricks. The board says it needs $2.3 million from local and federal governments to re-attach the bricks.

The Vanderbilt houses tenants 55 and older in 158 low-rent units.

Re-attaching the brick would be much more costly than simply removing it and replacing it with another facade, Yelton said.

“If the county funds are going to be used, I am sure you agree with me that they should be spent wisely,” he said. The old brick could be made into economy-grade stone at a local quarry, or ground into decorative pieces and sold, he suggested.

Commission Chair Tom Sobol thanked Yelton and asked Greene to inquire into the matter.

Basketball matters

Basketball fans who want local tournament action might be in luck: UNCA is hoping to host the Big South Conference in 1999 and 2000. UNCA Director of Athletic Facilities Jimmy Wilder asked commissioners whether they would be willing to contribute $10,000 if the tournament lands in Asheville.

Commissioners agreed to contribute the money. Commissioner David Young noted the tournament’s potential impact in the county.

“We used to do about that much for the Southern Conference,” said Young. Asheville hosted that tournament before it moved to Greensboro.

Other local contributions would include $10,000 each from UNCA, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Asheville Citizen-Times. The city of Asheville has offered the use of the Asheville Civic Center for a reduced fee, said Wilder.

The tournament would include both men’s and women’s basketball teams. The Big South includes four schools in North Carolina, two in South Carolina, and two in Virginia.

Annexation study

Commissioners approved spending $23,000 of taxpayers’ money from the contingency fund for an annexation-impact study.

The study will determine what effects annexation would have on areas targeted by the city of Asheville, said County Planner Jim Coman. The study will consider the impact on schools, industry, recreation and taxes. It will also look at city services offered in areas already annexed.

“Is this going to study the effect on the individual?” Young asked Coman.

“Yes, sir,” said Coman. “Those are the numbers we’re attempting to pin down.”

The study should be complete by the first week of August.

Board appointees

Commissioners appointed: Rod Hudgins to the Planning and Zoning Board; Dr. Paul Martin to the Board of Health; and Ann Cross and James McElduff to the Planning Board.

County odds and ends

Commissioners took the following actions without controversy:

• Heard a report from Vera Guise, chair of the Board of Social Services. Guise predicted a 44 percent increase between 1990 and 2010 in the number of people ages 65 to 84 living in Buncombe County. This will affect the county’s costs for Medicaid and Special Assistance to Adults, she said.

• Heard a report on the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plans for paving roads in Buncombe county in fiscal year 1998-99. Division Engineer Bill Smart said the DOT plans to spend about $3.5 million to pave 17.3 miles of road. Roads are paved according to a state-mandated priority system. It costs about $200,000 per mile to pave a road, he said.

• Discussed the County Noise Ordinance. A resident and some of his neighbors are complaining to the county about a firing range that another neighbor has opened in their residential neighborhood, said County Attorney Joe Connolly. “I do not believe that this violates the noise ordinance” as it’s written now, the lawyer said.

“I was not under the impression that this ordinance allowed a shooting range in a residential area,” said Young.

The ordinance “quite obviously” needs the board’s attention, said Sobol.

“We’ve got enough problems in our neighborhoods without shooting ranges,” said Commissioner David Gantt.

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