At long last, county residents may have a place to take their household hazardous wastes, and the N.C. Department of Transportation may get a big financial break — if Buncombe County commissioners accept an offer from the DOT to build the waste repository at the county landfill.
In a hurried session at the Courthouse on Aug. 4, county commissioners tentatively approved the agreement with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and the DOT.
The offer is part of DOT’s proposed settlement of its October 1997 violation of state hazardous-waste-management laws. The agency is facing $100,000 in fines.
Instead of simply paying the money, however, DOT is offering to construct a hazardous-materials, waste-storage building at the Buncombe County landfill — which, along with other supplemental services, would cost about $55,000. If the deal goes through, the building will store pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and other household-waste materials until they can be disposed of.
Denese Ballew, a Buncombe County hazardous-waste inspector, told commissioners that the deal is a “no-risk, no-money” way for the county to add the handling of household hazardous wastes to the landfill’s capabilities.
Commissioner Patsy Keever wasn’t convinced. Recalling the $100,000 fine, she asked, “Where is the other $45,000 going to?”
The answer was implicit in the ensuing silence: The other $45,000 would stay with DOT.
“It’s a bargain for the DOT,” Ballew admitted, adding, “It’s common [for the county] to accept these projects in lieu of a fine. It benefits citizens, and it benefits the county.”
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, explained Ballew, has already OK’d the alternative arrangement. In a letter to William Eaker at the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, Associate Attorney General F. Bryan Brice Jr. called the deal a “… win-win situation for all parties. The DOT can settle its case, and in so doing benefit the community. … The citizens will learn more about environmental issues, and have a place to dispose of household hazardous waste.”
As discussion continued, Ballew explained that the storage facility would be a “turn-key building,” including plumbing. However, she acknowledged that the county would be responsible for installing electrical wiring.
Ballew added that the DOT might wind up having do more than underwrite the $55,000 facility.
Commissioners asked Ballew to return in 30 days for a decision.
In an emotional plea to the commissioners, Buncombe County resident Sam Scroggs requested that his address, and those of 28 to 30 other residences, not be altered, just because of two houses at the end of his road.
Brandishing a petition, and backed by a remarkable show of support — fully half the crowd in the commissioners’ chambers were Wentworth Drive residents — Scroggs explained that the two houses in question, which also face School Road, are being assigned Wentworth Drive addresses because authorities say there aren’t enough address numbers remaining on School Road to accommodate the houses, unless they are given odd and even numbers, despite the fact that they are on the same side of the road.
But if the two houses are given Wentworth Drive addresses, Scroggs maintained, all the houses on his street would have to be renumbered; the residents would have to alter their driver’s licenses, their car registrations, their banking accounts, their wills and other legal documents. The total cost, including lawyer’s fees, would add up to nearly $6,000. “This is like a lady going to get her nails done, and they end up cutting off her hand,” he said.
Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton explained that the problem centers on the fact that “911 will have quite a problem finding these two places.” He went on to explain that the Wentworth renumbering would be accomplished in a relatively logical way; house #1 would become #101, house #2 would become #102, and so on. “We try to work with people whenever we can,” he remarked, “but sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.”
Commissioner Bill Stanley noted that quite a few roads in Buncombe County already have odd and even addresses on the same side. Why require all these people to change their addresses, he asked, when other houses are irregularly numbered?
Scroggs agreed, urging commissioners to allow the two houses to keep School Road addresses: “#1 will be on the left, #2 will be on the left, but every other house after that will be normal.”
Buncombe County Attorney Joe Connolly replied that if everyone can be assured that the residents’ houses and mailboxes have prominent numbers on them, “then we really don’t have a problem.”
The crowd of Wentworth residents vigorously agreed. When it was obvious that all the commissioners felt the same way, Connolly advised that an ordinance be drawn up for the next meeting, “to do this legally.”
During the public-comment period, Buncombe County residents Jerry Rice and Cynthia Edmonds complained about a lack of organization at their community-council meetings. Rice, a resident of the Enka/Candler area, claimed the meetings were “very ill-informed, not comprehensive enough,” and that the notification process for the meetings was “not appropriate.” Worried that the county is playing dirty with annexation, he asked that the commissioners schedule a meeting to address this problem as soon as possible.
“How about Sept. 15?” suggested Stanley.
But an Enka/Candler Community Council meeting was already scheduled for that day.
“That’s not soon enough,” replied Rice, adding, “We need it sooner.”
Edmonds complained that at least 500 of 1,000 meeting-announcement fliers had not been distributed. “How do I know that?” she asked rhetorically. “Our family reunion was held at the local fire station, where the flyers were stored.”
STEAM running out of steam
Also during the public-comment period, Christopher Tunstall, the director of Success Through Education and Motivation (STEAM), a program that helps kids with education, job training and literacy skills, pleaded with the commissioners to fund the program again this year. “Several of our employees are having to work at part-time jobs to get benefits,” he said, “and we can’t pay our rent for the month of August.”
Tunstall then read a short story written by one of the kids, to demonstrate to the commissioners STEAM’s good work.
When Tunstall prepared himself to read further testimonials, Commissioner David Young cut him short. Young spoke highly of the program, but said time was short. “I’m for it,” he affirmed, and asked that it be put on the agenda for the next meeting.
Courthouse lighting system overhauled
The bids are in for the County Courthouse’s lighting system, and the winner is Carolina Power and Light’s Strategic Resource Solutions. Their low bid of $106,260 was unanimously accepted by the commissioners.
The plans are to retrofit the Courthouse’s fluorescent lights, to save energy and money. The savings — at a rate of almost $2,300 a month — will pay for the project, argued an SRS representative. He also assured commissioners that the aesthetic integrity of the building would be maintained, adding that the plan is to “get back to a nostalgic look.”
’97 taxes are in
The 1997 tax year ended on June 30, and collections have reached a new high. While collections for registered motor-vehicle taxes were at 90.87 percent, the real- and personal-property-tax collection rate was at an impressive 98.81 percent, according to county Tax Director Jerome Jones. The combined collection rate was reported as 97.71 percent, with the total amount collected almost $3 million more than last year.
Jones explained — to hearty laughter in the chamber — that part of the reason the collections are up is that new, part-time deputies have been going out to taxpayers’ residences, “to talk people into paying.”
The collection process for 1998 taxes, Jones said, will begin in less than a month.
Board-attendance policy amended
Commissioners also amended their board-and-commission attendance policy to require appointees maintain a 60 percent attendance rate over the course of a 12-month period. Appointees who fail to do so, the commissioners agreed, will be replaced.
County Health Center gets new director
Dr. William R. Welder was introduced as the new director of the county’s Health Center. Welder, a native of Transylvania County, gave a brief speech relating how happy he is to be working in his native region. “This area is the most beautiful place in the world,” he declared.
The Health Center also announced that it has received an $809,655 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. The three-year grant includes a one-time, capital-expenditure allotment of more than $300,000, to buy equipment. The grant will allow the center to expand its primary-care clinic services by staying open one additional weekday evening, as well as on the weekends. The money will also provide equipment and support for the clinic.