Buncombe County Commission

Developmental technicians were honored with warm applause at the June 1 County Commissioners’ meeting. These unsung citizens — who provide round-the-clock supervision and support for people with developmental disabilities — were further recognized by a proclamation declaring June 16 Developmental Technicians’ Day in Buncombe County. Commissioner David Gantt read the proposal, which passed swiftly and unanimously.

A handful of county workers were also acknowledged at the meeting: Local winners of Excellence in Public Service Awards (a nationwide program) stepped up to the podium to receive certificates of merit from the board. The most decorated employee, surprisingly enough, was county Tax Collections Department Manager Gary Roberts, who garnered both the Outstanding Supervisor Award and the prestigious Outstanding Public Servant Award, as well as this accolade from Taxpayers for Accountable Government Chair Rachel Queen:

“Tax collectors have been [traditionally] looked upon with disdain, and it is unusual for a tax collector to receive this award … but Mr. Roberts has conducted business in a professional and compassionate manner,” she declared.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Sobol presented the Outstanding Public Servant Award. Upon hearing that Roberts had won, Commissioner Bill Stanley deadpanned, “[The certificate] forgot to say that Commissioner Stanley paid his taxes on time.”

Other award winners included: Project Access (Outstanding Team Award) for providing free prescription medication to low-income patients; and local volunteer fireman Peter Way (Outstanding Heroic Act Award) for his swift action during a Dec. 6. chemical spill on Interstate 26.

When a truck bearing extremely flammable sodium hydrosulfide overturned near the Saluda Grade, Way was among the first to help. He remained on the scene for a remarkable 15 hours, disregarding his own safety in the presence of the highly toxic fumes (which ignite when mixed with water) to help free the trapped driver and reroute traffic, thereby helping to avert sure disaster.

In true hero style, Way accepted his award with downcast eyes and a shy smile.

Building a better future

An economic-development incentive for NCI, Inc. passed easily, after a brief public hearing. NCI’s high-tech plant on Sweeten Creek Road produces airplane-engine components and supplies them to such world-renowned corporations as Rolls Royce.

In requesting the $63,578 incentive, which will help fund the plant’s $3.5 million expansion, company president Jerry Ballard noted that “from 1995 to 1998, NCI enjoyed tremendous growth, adding 21,000 square feet and going from 101 employees to 210 employees.”

With the aid of the incentive, the 50-year-old company — which pays an average wage of $14 per hour, and which was recently lauded by the state for environmental responsibility — plans to continue its expansion and add another 20 to 30 positions.

All told, the county projects that the company’s growth will increase the county’s tax base by $3,363,900.

After the proposal had passed, Commissioner David Young observed regretfully that, amid local government’s habitual fervor over the arrival of new businesses, the accomplishments of long-established companies are sometimes overlooked.

“Hopefully, this will be recognition of a job well done,” he concluded.

Drowning in dysfunction

“You inherited a mess,” conceded Commissioner Gantt, after listening thoughtfully to the Regional Water Authority’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. And though both he and Commissioner Stanley remained united in their disapproval of the budget, opposing its stiff 8 percent rate increase, both sympathized with the Water Authority’s soggy load of woe.

Costs incurred to relocate water lines (as demanded by the N.C. Department of Transportation) and enlarge the Bee Tree Reservoir spillway will be somewhat absorbed by $11 million worth of bonds, due to be issued next year — but even so, the Authority said it had found the rate increase absolutely necessary. The proposed hike (which translates to about $1.55 more per month per residence, $38 per month for commercial businesses, and $550 a month for large industries) will help mitigate the financial fallout from last summer’s drought and pay for repairs to the system’s crumbling, terminally faulty pipes.

Authority Chair Charles Worley urged naysayers to wade into his territory: “I ask critics to suggest where you would cut the budget,” he challenged, pointing out that 13 departmental positions have already been deleted to accommodate the new streamlined budget.

“I can’t tell you where to cut the budget,” retorted Stanley, intimating that drastic measures were in order. He found the rate increase unfair to citizens and incompatible with attracting new industry to the area.

But Commissioner Patsy Keever took the long view: “There are some things we can do without, but water is not one of them,” she offered philosophically.

Citizens for Safe Drinking Water Chair Hazel Fobes, a regular at the Regional Water Authority’s early-morning meetings, concurred: “We have to face these problems and stop fussing [about them] … If we want them to be fixed, we have to pay.

“Nobody, not even the world’s wealthiest person, can exist without water,” she concluded.

After much discussion, the budget passed 3-2.

Keep on truckin’

In other new business, Planning Department representative Denise M. Braine asked the commissioners to adopt an update to Buncombe County’s Community Transportation Services Plan.

The state Department of Transportation requires such an update every four years, as part of a certification program for local transportation programs wishing to be eligible for state and federal funding — such as Mountain Mobility, which provides a shuttle service to and from assorted human-service agencies, as well as general public transportation in rural areas.

Recognizing the importance of this and other county services, the board speedily passed the resolution.

Board appointments

Commissioners also made the following board appointments:

• Environmental Affairs Board: Denese Ballew, Sonya Greck, Vonna Cloninger, Jan Davis, Marvin Michalove, David Shenaut, Victor Fahrer, Hank Jackson, Leslee Thornton, Kitty Boniske and Virginia Miles.

• Nursing Home Board: Jane Copper-Short.

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