Yelton pushes Transmap question
With his usual approach, former county employee Don Yelton drew a peevish response from Buncombe County Commissioners when he asked about the status of the county’s canceled contract with Transmap. Last year, after heated criticism, commissioners revoked an agreement with the company, which was going to photograph properties on the county tax rolls.
“That [contract] must be in litigation, since there’s been no word,” began Yelton at the Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 1 meeting. Getting no response from commissioners, he pressed on, demanding that they state whether there are plans to revive the picture-taking project after the fall elections.
“This is public comment, and you’re wearing it out,” retorted Commissioner David Gantt. In a quick but testy exchange with Yelton, Gantt insisted that Yelton stick to making comments.
“Don’t grill the commissioners,” Vice Chair Patsy Keever added.
And when Yelton pressed his right to free speech, claiming he was trying to help the commissioners address a rumor, Gantt declared, “You’re a poster child for free speech, and we’re going to keep letting you do that. But we’re not going to let you run the meeting.”
A bit later, Board of Commissioners candidate Gerald Dean took up the fight, asking, “Transmap — have we settled it, yes or no?”
“Transmap wants a lot of money from this county, and I don’t think this county should consider paying [more]. I wouldn’t recommend that,” replied County Attorney Joe Connolly. The matter is not in litigation, but the company does want more money than what the county paid upon canceling the contract, he clarified.
“If we still wanted to take pictures, we wouldn’t have canceled the contract,” said Chairman Tom Sobol, ending the discussion.
Blue Ridge Area Authority update
On Aug. 1, the commissioners unanimously approved a 3-percent across-the-board salary increase for employees of the Blue Ridge Area Authority. That action and a brief report from the Authority got county watchdog Jerry Rice a little hot under the collar.
He criticized the agency, which oversees programs and facilities for mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse in a four-county area that includes Buncombe. “They’ve done a good job in a lot of areas, but it’s lacking in others,” said Rice. He claimed that no after-hours service is available for youth, and that only limited service is available for children who don’t qualify for Medicaid. But his primary objection was to the organization’s bureaucracy: “We have a bloated animal,” Rice declared.
Rice has been an advocate for special-needs children since tackling the system years ago, when his own son needed help with a learning disability. He mentioned state officials’ recommendation that Blue Ridge and similar local agencies across the state be disbanded, letting services be adminstered through county governments instead. “That’s the problem with Blue Ridge. They’re too big,” said Rice.
But Blue Ridge Director Larry Thompson reported that the organization has suffered from funding cutbacks, changes in Medicaid support, the loss of available beds, and a reduction in staff from 500 to 390 in the past few years. Yet, in Buncombe alone, 10,000 people have been assisted through Blue Ridge in the past year, Thompson emphasized. He also noted that evening-hour services are available four nights a week. “We have met the challenge,” said Thompson.
With little comment, commissioners approved the salary increase.
County approves water-system grants
It’s a formality, but Buncombe County commissioners approved the Regional Water Authority’s acceptance, this summer, of a $2 million state grant to fund water-system improvements. Last year the Authority received $3 million.
The moneys will at least make a dent in the Authority’s long list of critical needs, reported Water Resources Director Tom Frederick. He presented commissioners with the latest report on those needs — leaky lines that need replacing, problems with low water pressure, and undersized lines that need updating. The full list of priority projects would cost more than $23 million to address, said Frederick.
But more than $7 million worth of improvements is scheduled within the next 12 months, thanks in large part to the grants, he concluded. In March, 2001, the Authority will be seeking up to $3 million more, Frederick mentioned.
Vice Chair Keever made a motion that the county approve the Authority’s acceptance of the $2 million grant. Seconded by Bill Stanley, the motion was approved 4-0 (Commissioner David Young was not present at the Aug. 1 meeting).
Downsizing saves money
Buncombe County no longer has a budget director’s position: Two weeks after firing Ken Goble from the slot, County Manager Wanda Greene asked commissioners to downgrade the position to a nonsupervisory classification with lower pay.
“Why are we doing that?” asked Commissioner Gantt before the start of the meeting.
“It saves us money,” Greene answered. Later in the meeting, she estimated that downgrading the position would save the county $75,000.
But Candler resident Jerry Rice called the firing of Goble, the quick hiring of a replacement, and the downgrade “political.”
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our operations,” responded Greene, explaining that the county’s Finance and Budget departments had been combined last fall.
Commissioners approved the downgrade as part of their consent agenda.
County unveils adult-home-care Web site
There’s a new resource for residents who need to place a loved one in an adult-care facility: a Web site providing detailed information about all 104 such facilities in Buncombe County.
“Imagine if you are looking for an adult-home-care [facility] for your mother or father. How do you pick among 104?” asked Department of Social Services Director Calvin Underwood. Buncombe has more adult-home-care facilities than any other county in the state, he mentioned.
The new Web site provides a starting point: It lists each facility, details the services and amenities offered, and even notes any substantiated complaints leveled against it. Underwood pointed out that 80 percent of the facilities in Buncombe have clean records; only 28 complaints were substantiated last year, and only four of those resulted in “negative action” against the facility. Eventually, he added, the Web site will also offer pictures of each establishment.
Adult-home-care facilities include rest homes, family-care homes, and assisted living for the elderly and/or disabled.
You can access the Web site at www.buncombe.org/ach.
Other county news
During their Aug. 1 meeting, commissioners elected to reschedule their Sept. 5 meeting to Sept. 12. Commissioner David Gantt has a wedding to attend on Sept. 5 (the day after Labor Day).
Commissioners also heard a presentation from Eblen Foundation Executive Director Bill Murdock. Since May, 82 Buncombe County children have been helped by the nonprofit’s Children’s Charities programs, he reported, and $75,000 in free dental care has been secured for children “living with illness and disabilities.” Murdock, who has a full-time staff of two (including himself), summarized this accomplishment as a triumph of wheeling and dealing: He contacted local dentists, asking whether they’d donate their time if he could get the supplies and a space for providing the service to children. Then he approached a supplier about donating the supplies if Eblen found the dentists and the space. And then he tied it all together by asking whether A-B Tech would donate the space — if he’d get the dentists and the supplies. “It worked out well,” said Murdock.