Buncombe County Commission

Citizens opposed to zoning are persistent, to say the least. About a dozen Fairview residents proclaimed their “No Zoning” stand by holding up bright-red placards at the Buncombe County commissioners’ June 22 meeting, when Chairman Tom Sobol called the meeting to order.

Commissioner Bill Stanley presented a pProclamation honoring the Special Olympics South Africa Delegation and making June 22 Asheville/Buncombe Host Town Day. Yvette Coetzee of Johannnesburg, head of the African delegation, accepted the award to warm applause. The 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games — being held in North Carolina from June 26 to July 4, 1999, have drawn 4,400 athletes and 1,200 coaches from 150 international delegations.

Commissioners unanimously adopted the county’s new fiscal-year budget, which totals $199,265,279. The budget includes a 2 percent increase in the commissioners’ annual compensation (the chair will receive $17,888, and the other four commissioners will get $11,752). In addition, each county commissioner receives travel and cell-phone allowances.

Before the vote, Commissioner David Young voiced his concern about increases in community-development expenditures. “We’ve got to make some changes here: We cannot continue to have these kinds of increases,” said Young, introducing a motion requesting county staff “to bring us back a plan to reduce this to $1 million within four years.”

Commissioner Patsy Keever said she couldn’t support his motion, but allowed that, “We do have to look at the way we decide to spend this money.”

Sobol worried that cutting funds from the community-development budget might cause “some significant pain and hurt to agencies that depend upon us.” He suggested a budget-review process similar to United Way’s, which includes recommendations from members of the public who interview the agencies requesting funds.

Commissioner David Gantt said: “I guess there is probably a better way to do this [budget review]. … I don’t want to say we should cut anything until you are specific about what to cut.”

Young’s motion did not receive a second.

Gantt asked County Manager Wanda Greene to comment on the new supplements for teachers included in the budget. “Mr. [Jerry] Rice made a point:. [The supplements are] going up. We have to find ways to control that. Do we know how they are spending the money?” queried Gantt.

Greene responded that the county school board and school administration are very forthcoming with information. “A lot of factors have to be considered,” she added. “It has to be a well-thought-out change. We would have to work closely with the schools.”

Shooting-range requirements revisited

Commissioners unanimously agreed to amend the county noise ordinance, which currently exempts “any shooting range operations originating on the premises of any firearm club, organization or association.” The amended ordinance narrows the exemption to only those ranges that are “affiliated with the National Rifle Association” and designed so that the weapons’ point of discharge is “at least 500 feet from the nearest existing residence, church, school, hospital, day care facility or nursing home facility.”

The new 500-feet restriction can be waived if the “operator of the shooting range obtains written permission from the occupant or person in charge of every residence, church, school, hospital, day care facility or nursing home facility within 500 feet of the point of discharge. “

“Guns have generated great emotions in America,” observed County Attorney Joe Connolly. “No matter what you think about guns, it is one of the goals of the National Rifle Association to promote safety.” He held up a four-inch-thick binder from the NRA, known as the “Range Source Book,” that details guidelines for firing-range safety.

The amended ordinance, noted Connolly, will affect only the Shelby Road Firing Range in the Emma township, operated by Don Guge. Connolly advised commissioners that Guge’s attorney had been sent a copy of the revised ordinance.

Guge was not present at the meeting.

Connolly explained that a state statute, the Sport Shooting Range Protection Act of 1997, grandfathers firearms clubs, organizations or associations in existence since 1994, exempting them from all new ordinances.

Guge’s Shelby Road property was deeded to him in June, 1997, according to attorney Stan Klontz of the county’s Legal Department.

“The N.C. General Assembly saw fit to prevent county and city governments from affecting the operations of those ranges by adoption of the Sport Shooting Range Protection Statute,” Connolly explained.

The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department will be responsible for determining whether a shooting range is “in substantial compliance with the guidelines dealing with range safety set forth in the NRA Range Source Book.”

In other business, Annie Ager, president of the Fairview Community Center, asked commissioners match funds raised privately to renovate the center, located in the former gymnasium of Fairview School on the Charlotte Highway. Ager told commissioners that the center has already raised nearly $3,000 of the estimated $37,000 cost.

After some discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to match 50 cents for every dollar the community raises.

“We’d like you to start with the bathrooms,” quipped Keever.

Commissioners unanimously endorsed a plan to increase salaries at the Blue Ridge Center for Mental Health, which serves a four-county region. Area Director Lawrence E. Thompson III asked commissioners to endorse a general 4 percent salary increase, effective July 1, and reminded them that Blue Ridge’s salaries for mental-health-programs rank 27 out of 38 such programs in the state.

He added that the center recently lost 70 employees, a 14 percent work-force reduction, due to state funding cuts. “There was no reduction in requests for service,” he noted.

Buncombe County is not being asked to pay for the salary increase, according to Thompson; because the Center will cover the increase by trimming its operating budget.

The commissioners of the other three counties served by Blue Ridge have endorsed the salary increase.

“They do a good job. They are a worthy bunch,” said Commissioner Bill Stanley, who represents the Buncombe County commissioners on the Blue Ridge board.

Attorney Stan Klontz of the county’s Legal Department asked commissioners to approve a $40,000 “clincher agreement,” to satisfy a claim by County Sheriff Bobby Medford for an injury he sustained on the job, which resulted in a permanent 25 percent impairment of his back. “We believe it is in the best interest of the county to agree to this settlement,” said Klontz. The request passed unanimously without comment.

Board appointments

Attorney Connolly suggested a new way to fill the numerous vacancies that come up regularly on county boards and commissions — but his suggestion seemed only to confuse the commissioners. “Five of you have four votes, for a total of 20 votes … ” Connolly began, during the commissioners’ pre-meeting session. In the regular meeting, Connolly continued his convoluted explanation. In carefully phrased language, with little economy of words, he detailed how the five commissioners would each cast one vote, as the names of each of the candidates were called.

Both Keever and Gantt looked amused as Sobol asked, “Are you saying we are going to vote on this, one at a time?”

In the end, commissioners made the following appointments:

• Planning Board: Larry New, Bud Sales, Alan McGuinn

• Downtown Commission: Ashly Maag

• Mountain Workforce Development Board: Rick Elingburg, Vicki Featherstone, Vicki Heidinger Robert Kendrick, and William Teague (Commissioner Gantt noted, for the record, that the Workforce Development Board appointments represent an exception to the rule that normally bars individuals from serving more than two consecutive terms on a given board.)

• Council on Aging: Les Mitchell, a seven-year veteran observer of county-commissioners’ meetings, and Doris Giezentanner, former Buncombe County commissioner

• Historic Resources Commission: Stan Collins, William Wescott, and Christopher Slusher

• Farmland Preservation Board: Maurice Brank and Ed Bulluck.

Hazel Fobes, apologizing for speaking “out of order,” asked for clarification on the status of the vacancies on the Air Pollution Control Agency Board. Sobol noted that the one current vacancy on that board, created by the resignation of Roy “Doc” Roberts, needs to be filled by July 6, before the next scheduled meeting of the air-agency board.

“I’ll be out of country,” interjected. Gantt. “I guess there are no absentee ballots for commissioners?”

Commissioners will make two additional appointments in the coming weeks, Sobol said. Commissioners agreed to re-open the process of nominations for those positions.

Commissioners passed the consent agenda without comment.

Public comment

As Fairview resident (and sometimes-abrasive critic) Peter Dawes stepped forward to speak, the commissioners seemed to brace themselves.

“Our lungs and health are very important,” Dawes declared, before suggesting that someone from the Health Department should be appointed to fill the current vacancy on the Air Pollution Control Agency Board. Dawes also complained about a May 19 Planning Board meeting. “Three members showed up. There was no quorum: It was an illegal meeting,” Dawes charged.

Don Yelton, reading from a prepared comment, timed to the three-minute limit, told commissioners, “You can put the zoning issue to a vote. A precedent has been set. … It is in black and white.” Yelton read from a copy of a 1977 Cabarrus County law that allows a wide range of issues to be put to the voters in a general election.

Yelton read from the ordinance: “When twenty-five percent of the qualified voters of the city apply to the Council by signed petition for the purpose of voting upon any question of public interest … [council may resolve] to do so by a vote of three-fifths of its total members.”

“I ask you to do the proper thing,” Yelton said, “and put this up to a vote. Put zoning off to next year, and let us vote on it.”

Jerry Rice, whose particular concern of late has been the county school teachers’ supplement, told commissioners, “It’s a political issue. [Teachers] are used for so many votes, political people are afraid to talk about it.” Rice asked commissioners to get the county manager to analyze the way the current supplements are being spent — especially how they are distributed among new teachers, older teachers and administrators — and to report back with a plan for redistributing those dollars, to target younger teachers.

At that, Commissioner Stanley leaned toward Rice and said, “I don’t agree with you often, but I do agree with you on this.”

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