“I have been amazed to see the cost of public safety increase to the point where it nearly equals our expenditures for human services. I hope that doesn’t continue.”
— County Manager Wanda Greene
Armed with a PowerPoint presentation featuring pie charts and bar graphs, County Manger Wanda Greene delivered her proposed 2006-07 budget at the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ May 16 meeting.
The presentation was colored by a recent state law requiring counties to calculate and make public a revenue-neutral rate for property taxes following a revaluation (i.e. one that would bring in the same amount of money as before). According to Greene, the revenue-neutral tax rate would be 50.25 cents per $100 of assessed value, down from the current 59 cents. But that calculation is only a starting point, and the actual rate the commissioners will approve in June is likely to be higher.
To maintain core services at their current levels, Greene’s proposed $277 million budget would require a 54.5 cent tax rate, she said. Of that total, roughly $266 million is in the general fund — the portion supplied by property taxes and used to pay for the county’s three principal functions: schools (42 percent), public safety (28 percent) and human services (30 percent).
“Over my years with county government, I have been amazed to see the cost of public safety increase to the point where it nearly equals our expenditures for human services,” noted Greene, adding, “I hope that doesn’t continue.”
A penny here, a penny there
But the county manager also passed along a number of budget requests not reflected in her proposal. While the draft budget allocates $2 million more than last year for the city and county schools and A-B Tech, fulfilling an additional $2.4 million in education requests would tack another penny on the tax rate. Similarly, while including some increased costs for law enforcement, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department has put in for increases which would tack on nearly 2 cents more. Other potential add-ons include the Conservation/Recreation Reserve Fund and nonprofit capital campaigns, each requiring about a half-cent increase. Fully funding all these requests would bump the new tax rate up to 58.4 cents, said Greene.
During the public-comment period, Capt. Gary Ramsey, who is budget and personnel director for the Sheriff’s Department, urged the commissioners to approve the additional funding for his department, which he said would replace 35 aging vehicles and provide additional safety gear for deputies, while somewhat increasing the number and frequency of patrols.
Earlier, Commissioner David Young had asked Greene: “What scares you [about this budget]? Where are the holes? Gas is the highest it’s been, heating oil is going up, and every county in the state is raising its tax revenues.”
Greene replied, “Fuel is the biggest. It has a lot of impact, not only for transportation but for many of the products we use. Capital-project costs are rising fast. … And election machines will be a big cost.”
A public hearing on the proposed budget is on the agenda for the commissioners’ Tuesday, June 6 meeting, starting at 4:30 p.m. The proposal is available in printed form at the county manager’s office and has been posted on the county Web site, buncombecounty.org.
Red Oak School sale approved
In a move that appeared to lay to rest what Chairman Nathan Ramsey called a “horse that has been beaten to death,” the board unanimously approved a deal on the former Red Oak School in north Buncombe County. The fate of the building, no longer used by the Buncombe County Schools, has spurred mass attendance at board meetings, endless harangues during public comment, and a failed attempt by a nonprofit community group to raise the money buy the property for use as a recreation center.
Under state law, school facilities must be offered to the relevant local governments before being sold to the highest bidder. So any nonprofit hoping to acquire the Red Oak property without competition from for-profit buyers had to deal with Buncombe County. In the end, the commissioners agreed to buy the property from the Buncombe County Schools for $207,000 and resell it to ReCreation Experiences, a faith-based nonprofit that works with low-income residents in need of home repair, for the same price. ReCreation Experiences promised to maintain the ball fields and other recreational facilities for community use.
The commissioners also made the following board appointments: Linda Lauzon and Brenda Crisp (Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee), Britt Lovin (WNC Regional Air Quality Agency board) and David Young (Asheville Planning and Zoning Board).