Buncombe County Commissioners

Bill Newman‘s term as chair of the Buncombe County Planning Board expired nearly two years ago. Same goes for Roy Chapman and Karl Koon, who also serve on the nine-member body. But despite pitched public outcry over the past several months, the county commissioners don’t seem to be in any hurry to replace them.

Are you still here?: Planning Board Chairman Bill Newman and two other board members still serve, even though the Board of Commissioners has failed to reappoint them. photo by Kent Priestley

That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by some county residents. “We’ve been talking about this for months,” says Elaine Lite of the Mountain Voices Alliance, a watchdog group formed last year to fight mountaintop development. “Their original excuse was that everyone [on the Planning Board] was working on the zoning plan. Well, that was back in April, and nothing’s changed.” Critics have long accused planning board members of being overly lenient with developers.

Meanwhile, at their June 19 meeting, the county commissioners made a dozen board appointments and reappointments. Yet there was no mention of the Planning Board—which has the power to approve new developments in the county with no involvement by commissioners—until Lite brought it up.

Playing it safe?: In preparation for a vote on a measure to ban sex offenders from county parks and recreation facilities, county staff created this map showing where they live. The measure passed unanimously.

“When are we going to get word on the expired Planning Board members?” she asked during the public-comment period before the formal meeting.

Asked about it later, Commissioner David Gantt told Xpress: “There are several members of the Planning Board who are overdue for replacement, and I support making this happen. As I understand it, though, we’ve got to advertise and do interviews for those positions. I agree with the folks who have pointed this out that if anyone carries over, it needs to be addressed. But recently I think that much of the board felt like it was important to retain these people during the zoning process who had expertise in the issues. Now that the zoning is passed, it’s time to move on and get some people considered for the post.” Gantt said he expects the commissioners to take up the matter when the board reconvenes in August.

New Health Center fees approved

Beginning this fall, most residents who rely on the Buncombe County Health Center for medical care will be charged a modest co-pay. Center staff handled some 22,000 appointments last year.

The commissioners unanimously approved a new sliding-scale fee schedule: People at or slightly above the federal poverty level will pay $3 per visit; those with higher incomes will pay $5. Homeless people will not be charged.

The fees are intended to reduce the number of no-shows and to “instill the value of health care,” Human Services Director Mandy Stone explained. The change is expected to take effect in September, said Stone. The money collected will be returned to the county’s general fund but not factored into the new budget, since it isn’t known how much the policy will bring in.

“We’ll follow up to make sure we’re not doing any harm,” noted Stone.

Seeing green

The commissioners also unanimously approved a budget for fiscal year 2007-08, which begins July 1. The nearly $304 million budget includes new money for school nursing positions and animal control, as well as $2 million for conservation projects, reported County Manager Wanda Greene. The commissioners also honored an additional funding request from Asheville City Schools Superintendent Robert Logan, increasing the supplemental tax from 15 cents to 17 cents per $100 of property valuation.

Before the vote, Vice Chair Carol Peterson proposed trimming the property-tax rate from 55 cents per $100 of assessed value to 52.5 cents, in light of “streamlining in county expenses and the economic situation of people in the county.” The board approved the amendment, and Greene said her office would “make appropriate changes” in spending to offset the lost revenues.

Tennis, anyone?

Following Woodfin’s and Asheville’s lead, the commissioners approved an ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from entering county parks and other recreational facilities.

As of May, there were 263 registered sex offenders living in Buncombe County, according to Assistant County Attorney Michael Frue.

“They pose a high risk to the general population even after being released from prison and being registered, and this is intended to reduce the opportunities for such registered sex offenders.”

Any violation of the new ordinance, said Frue, “would be punishable as a class 3 misdemeanor.”

“It’s basically going to be a complaint-driven system,” noted board Chair Nathan Ramsey.

Trees, please

On a 5-0 vote, the commissioners directed the county’s Environmental Advisory Board to draft a policy for preserving trees on ridgetops and hillsides. The move, said Gantt, will “address many of the concerns people in the county have and help minimize the scarring of our mountains.”

But Ramsey said he had a few concerns of his own. “In my view, our steep-slope ordinance already addresses properties at greater than 25 percent grade,” he noted. “How do we make sure this thing doesn’t get a life of its own to where we come back and people have an ordinance that applies to cutting a tree in their back yard?”

Under the county’s steep-slope ordinance, along slopes of 25 percent, 70 percent of a lot must remain undisturbed. At a 35 percent slope, 85 percent must remain undisturbed.

Despite his initial hesitation, however, Ramsey supported the measure.

In other business, the commissioners reappointed seven people to the Board of Adjustment: James Lesko, Con Dameron, Jim Guido, Martin Lewis, George Morosani, Howard Collins and John Yurko. In addition, Carolyn Crew and Anita White-Carter were reappointed to the library board of trustees, and David McClain was reappointed to the Health Board. Rodney Mangum (Roberson District) and Dave Torbett (at large) were appointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Torbett was approved on a 3-2 vote; all the other appointments were unanimous.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 7, beginning at 4:30 p.m. in Room 204 of the Buncombe County Courthouse.

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