“What are we doing about fuel efficiency and alternative-fuel vehicles in the fleet?”
— Commissioner David Gantt
A proposed amendment to the county’s animal-control ordinance is designed to keep Buncombe from going to the dogs (or, for that matter, the llamas). The change would require households or property owners wishing to keep more than six domestic animals over the age of 16 weeks to obtain a permit. For-profit farms, kennels and pet shops would be exempted.
The goal, Environmental Health Director Layton Long explained during the May 25 Board of Commissioners meeting, is to address complaints from neighbors of households with large numbers of pets.
Animal Control Supervisor David Long said he’d inspected a home whose owner had 75 dogs — all vetted, tagged and neutered. “The house is pretty clean, considering,” he reported.
During the public-comment portion of the meeting, however, Fairview resident Eric Gorny noted that the “for profit” requirement for farms would disqualify his homestead, where he keeps sheep, llamas, goats and other animals for educational purposes.
And Peter Dawes, a candidate for the Board of Commissioners, observed that the amendment, as written, includes fish. “I have goldfish in my pond,” he said, then wondered aloud about darker motives. “Are you being paid off [by animal-rights advocates]? Get real. There are more crucial issues facing this county.”
The board tabled the amendment, asking that it be rewritten to exempt educational farms and to more precisely define which animals are covered. Long and Long will prepare a new version for the July 13 Board of Commissioners meeting.
How we’re doing
Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes presented the “Annual Report to the People,” which assesses the county’s progress in achieving seven broad goals.
According to the report, Buncombe County SAT scores are above both national and state averages; Local wages and the juvenile-crime rate are below those averages. The number of child-care programs with a three-star rating has risen by 12 percent, the use of libraries and recreational facilities use is up by 11 percent, and recycling efforts have extended the county landfill’s life expectancy (from 30 to 36+ years). And last year’s complete retooling of the county Web site has dramatically increased the number of hits from 60,000 (between July 2002 and June 2003) to 1.7 million (since last July).
The document is available online (http://www.buncombecounty.org/governing/commissioners/default.htm) or by mail (call 250-4105 or e-mail email@example.com).
Following the money
Planner Cynthia Barcklow outlined details of the $300,000 affordable-housing program included in the proposed 2004-05 budget. The money would be used to fund building-permit rebates and the rehabilitation and new construction of both single-family and multifamily housing. All but $22,000 (earmarked to cover administration of the permit-rebate program) would be dispensed in the form of secured low-interest loans.
County Manager Wanda Greene, meanwhile, presented an overview of the new budget. The $200,254,818 budget represents a 3.1 percent increase over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Education remains the county’s largest budget category, and the proposed budget includes a $3 million (7 percent) increase for the Asheville and Buncombe County schools and A-B Tech. Expenditures for human services, the second-largest sector, would increase by $1.6 million (6 percent). And public safety, ranked third, would increase by $2.4 million (8.5 percent).
A little more than half of county revenues come from property taxes, with another third contributed via intergovernmental payments (such as Medicaid) or sales taxes.
The proposed budget also includes a $200,000 increase reflecting rising gasoline prices, noted Greene.
“What are we doing about fuel efficiency and alternative-fuel vehicles in the fleet?” asked Commissioner David Gantt.
Every decision involving the fleet was made with an eye toward efficiency, Greene replied. The least-efficient vehicles are being retired and not replaced, and inherently inefficient four-wheel-drive vehicles are being used only as needed. But with waiting lists of up to a year for delivery of alternative vehicles and a shortage of local mechanics trained to service them, the county is holding off on buying such vehicles for now, she said.
Commissioner Patsy Keever inquired, “Is A-B Tech training people for those new jobs?”
“Good question,” was Greene’s quick response.
Greene also reported that the county has been downsizing its work force through attrition and then “working smarter” with the smaller staff. “We’ve asked people to wear three hats instead of just one,” she said, and ongoing personnel audits are being used to eliminate jobs and redistribute tasks in every department.
The commissioners also made the following appointments: Vonna Cloninger (Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency), Dr. David McCain (Board of Health), Betty Barefoot and Edna Miller (Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee) and Doris Giezentanner (A-B Tech Board of Trustees).
At press time, a budget hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, June 1 in Room 204 of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The commissioners will vote on the proposed budget at their June 15 meeting.