On second thought…

Just say no: Candler resident Jerry Rice held up a list of nonprofits requesting money from the county with a big red "X," urging commissioners to reject funding them. photo by Max Cooper

In recent weeks, the Buncombe County commissioners had debated stringent standards that would have limited nonprofits’ ability to request county funding for years to come. In the end, however, the board merely fine-tuned the existing policy.

At their May 7 meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved adding language requiring nonprofits that receive county funding to submit audited financial statements and Internal Revenue Service Form 990 to the county’s finance department annually. “In general, administrative costs of 12 percent will be used as a guideline; however, each application will be considered based on program need and community impact,” the policy now states.

During the board’s April 13 budget retreat, Commissioner Joe Belcher had proposed making the 12 percent limit on administrative costs a prerequisite for county funding. He also sought to bar nonprofits’ annual funding requests from exceeding the inflation rate, as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index, and to cap county funding at 25 percent of an organization’s operating budget.

But all those ideas were subsequently dropped during behind-the-scenes negotiations, as Belcher got a better sense of what his colleagues were willing to support. The new guidelines mostly reiterate the policy approved in 2008, which requires nonprofits to open their books and agree to performance standards that must be met for the contract to be renewed. County contributions to capital projects are capped at $500,000 per year.

Still, Belcher said he was happy with the revised version, asserting that it will help clarify the policy. He also stressed that he’s not “against nonprofits,” adding, “We use nonprofits to do some good work for the county.”

Meanwhile, board Chair David Gantt noted that the measure won’t prevent a group from making its case for county funding. And in recent weeks, many have: The next fiscal year begins July 1, and 31 of the county’s more than 1,600 nonprofits are collectively asking for about $8.64 million, dwarfing the roughly $1.26 million awarded last year.

The commissioners made no decisions on those requests and didn’t discuss them during the May 7 meeting. In the public-comment period, however, Candler resident Jerry Rice urged the board to stop funding all 31 nonprofits, holding up a list of them as he proclaimed, “The big red X on there means get rid of it: Don’t even consider it.”

The commissioners have until June 30 to approve a balanced budget.

From the streets to the skies

In other business, the commissioners heard updates on:
• The North Carolina Department of Transportation's Secondary Roads program. The DOT plans to spend $1.37 million on a long list of relatively minor road improvements in Buncombe County this year. Among the biggest local projects are widening 3.62 miles of Old N.C. 20 in Leicester (projected cost: $489,000) and 2 miles of Dogwood Road in Candler ($360,000).

• The state of the Asheville Regional Airport. The facility hopes to secure $64 million in federal and state funding for an extensive reconstruction of its airfield, Executive Director Lew Bleiweis reported. Last year, he said, the facility contributed $474 million to the local economy and helped support 1,700 jobs. But with passenger volume expected to rise by only 1.67 percent over the next two decades, the Airport Authority is considering other ways to generate revenue, such as siting hotels on the property. A gas station, noted Bleiweis, is already being built on airport land.

• Developments in the River Arts District. Pattiy Torno, chair of the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, said the city is drafting a development plan for 10 acres it owns along Riverside Drive between Craven and Lyman streets. As part of that process, planners will hold five public input sessions in the coming months; the first one will be Friday, May 31, at Jean Webb Park from 5 to 8 p.m. Uses being considered, noted Torno, include a greenway, a park and retail space.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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