Buncombe County Commission

Ask, and you still might not receive.

In a particularly tight budget year, there’s a chance that Asheville and Buncombe’s public schools won’t get the fiscal year 1998-’99 budget funds they requested during the May 12 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

Buncombe county schools, Asheville city schools and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College each requested more money from the county this fiscal year than last year. Their reasons include a push for more technological equipment, raises for teachers and administrators, and proposed construction and expansion.

The requests are “a substantial increase, and [they] come at a difficult time for us because [the Board has] said we’re going to go back to revenue neutral,” said Commission Chair Tom Sobol.

“Revenue neutral” means that, on the whole, the county won’t collect more in local taxes this year than it did last year. That means an increase in school funding would bring a big cut somewhere else.

County Schools Superintendent Bob Bowers requested approximately $33 million from commissioners for the coming fiscal year. This is nearly $3.4 million (11.4 percent) more than the county government provided last year, according to Ken Goble, the Buncombe County budget administrator. (Bill Hamby, Buncombe County Schools’ director of capital budgeting and accounting, figured an increase of $3.1 million, or a bit more than 10 percent.)

The county school system’s entire projected budget for the coming fiscal year is $137 million. (The schools also get state and federal support.)

Almost $1 million of the county school’s request is for additional hi-tech equipment. Students need to be able to access the “superhighway” of advanced technology, said Bowers.

City Schools Superintendent Karen Campbell asked commissioners for approximately $5.6 million, which is approximately $250,000 — or 4.6 percent — more than the Asheville schools got from the county last year, according to Goble. The city school system’s projected budget is $13 million.

A-B Tech President Ray Bailey, who was not at the meeting, but made his school’s request through County Manager Wanda Greene, asked commissioners for approximately $3.9 million. This is up $250,000 (7 percent) from last year’s county portion of the school’s budget, according to figures in the A-B Tech budget request. The community college’s projected budget for the coming fiscal year is roughly $25 million.

Commissioners promised to study the budgets carefully. They will decide how much to allot to the schools when they pass Buncombe County’s own fiscal-year 1998-99 budget, probably on June 30.

Equal opportunity plan

After more than a year in the works, the Asheville-Buncombe Minority Business Plan has been unanimously approved by the county commissioners.

The plan states that the county will actively seek minority businesses to bid for government jobs. The county’s goal new official goal is to hire minority- or woman-owned businesses for 12 percent of the construction contracts, plus 10 percent of the contracts for procurement, professional services and “other services.”

As it’s now written, the plan calls for higher goals for the city of Asheville because the city has a larger minority population. For example, the city’s minority-business procurement goals are: 5 percent African-Americans, 2 percent Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans, and 18 percent women.

The plan is meant to “provide minorities equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of county and city contracting and purchasing programs,” according to the plan’s introduction.

During a meeting back on Jan. 6, commissioners tabled the plan for more work after some people called it incomplete. Local publisher Clarence Benton called the plan “doomed to fail.” Marilyn Bass, who was directing the joint city-county Office of Minority Affairs, openly questioned the county’s desire to do business with minorities (she had announced her resignation a few days earlier).

Since then, the plan has been modified. Originally, it called for a 100 percent increase over the current levels of minority participation by the county; now the plan sets specific minimum quotas. Also, the plan originally called for 11 seats on the planned Minority Business Commission, representing such groups as the NAACP, the Minority Business Alliance, Women in Construction and the Chamber of Commerce; two new seats are to be added, one for the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corporation and one for the American Institute of Architecture.

Mamie Scott, new director of the Office of Minority Affairs, expressed confidence in the modified plan, saying it offers “sound direction” to inclusive county dealings.

Officially, the plan won’t go into effect until it’s adopted by the Asheville City Council. The plan is on Council’s May 26 agenda.

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