Buncombe County Commission

Commissioner Patsy Keever called it “the shortest meeting in history.” Be that as it may, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners still managed to pass a number of resolutions, board appointments, assorted requests and ordinances at their June 3 session. And with the county’s 2003-04 budget up for final public scrutiny — and the commissioners expected to approve it at their next meeting — the meeting’s brevity was all the more surprising.

Prevention Council member Capt. Don Frasier outlined the council’s 2003-04 budget for the commissioners. The program, designed to keep Buncombe County children and teens off drugs and in school, provides life-skills instruction, mediation, day treatment programs and psychological services. The $1.2 million total budget includes $87,215 in county funding, with the remainder coming from federal, state and other sources. Commissioner Bill Stanley commended Frasier for his work with the program and its effectiveness in keeping Buncombe County’s youth on track.

County approves mental-health plan

The commissioners also unanimously approved a much-debated reorganization plan for mental-health, developmental-disability and substance-abuse services. The plan (part of state-mandated mental-health reform) calls for establishing a 13-member governing board to oversee such services in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties. If approved by all eight counties, the resolution will take effect Jan. 1, 2004.

In response to the outcry from care providers, care recipients and their families at previous Board of Commissioners meetings, the county had retooled its plan, modifying the ratio of county officials to providers, consumers and family members of the mentally ill on the board. The first year, there will be eight officials and five representatives’ the second year, eight officials and seven advocates; and in 2006, there will be eight officials and nine advocates.

Mental Health Task Force member Jerry Rice criticized the resolution, which he said had not been recommended by the task force. The commissioners, he said, aren’t allowing the group to fulfill its function as an advisory board for mental-health reform. Rice invited the commissioners to attend a task-force meeting to “hear local opinions and understand what people need.” Mental-health advocates have pushed for equal numbers of officials and advocates on the new board, as outlined in the state statute (which, however, leaves counties free to set whatever ratio they wish, provided that it adequately represents the interests of the interested parties).

Money matters

Assistant County Manager Jerome Jones reported that the Audit Committee is hiring the CPA firm Gould & Killian to audit the fiscal year 2002-03 budget. The committee met twice (May 9th and May 30th) to discuss the bids received.

The commissioners also held a brief public hearing on the fiscal year 2003-04 budget.

Although the proposed general-fund budget totals $194,319,142 — a 2.9 percent increase over last year — the commissioners have vowed not to raise taxes (the rate now stands at 59 cents per $100 of property valuation). More than a quarter of the total budget is earmarked for education. The $53. 4 million in school funding is $3 million more than last year’s figure (a 6 percent increase). Human-services funding, by contrast, increased by only 1 percent (to $70.3 million). Other key budget components include public safety ($38.2 million) and Medicaid (the county’s share is $12 million).

During the public-comment period, Leicester resident Alan Ditmore urged the commissioners to ensure adequate funding for reproductive rights in the budget (including the Health Department’s family-planning program).

Jerry Rice, meanwhile, commented that since the commissioners removed the public-comment period from the televised portion of their meetings, the public has not been well-informed about budget issues. Whatever the reason, there was a remarkably small turnout for such an important session — the public’s last chance to speak up about the budget for the coming year. Rice also challenged the current tax rate, which he said hasn’t been justified and should be reduced. “There is no accountability,” griped Rice. “No one is showing us where our money is going.” The commissioners are expected to approve the budget at their June 17 meeting.

Other business

The board also made a number of unanimous appointments: Mary Krause Israel (Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee); Jim Daniels and Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Young (Board of Adjustment); Jay Marino, David Summey and James McElduff (reappointed to the Planning Board); and Jim Daniels, David Young andJerry Grant (reappointed to the Economic Development Commission).

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