Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Aug. 16, 2011 meeting
- Referendum scheduled on sales-tax increase
- New revenue would benefit A-B Tech
If the Buncombe County commissioners get their way, travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway will one day be able to enjoy a new overlook showcasing views of Asheville. At their Aug. 16 meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved a resolution urging Parkway administrators to build one to help lure more tourists into town. No current overlook on the popular scenic roadway features city views.
"It's an exciting idea; it would be something enjoyed by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people," Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis declared, stressing that the plan must first clear a series of hurdles.
Any new construction would have to go through the National Park Service’s extensive planning process, he explained, including public hearings and an environmental-impact assessment. Geography also poses a major challenge: Only one potential location (milepost 394.5, about 10 miles south of the Visitor Center) offers decent city views. The Parkway, added Francis, would probably ask the county and other partners, such as private foundations, to help fund construction and maintenance costs. The agency is having a hard time servicing existing overlooks, he noted, having lost a third of its maintenance staff to budget cuts in recent years.
Board Chair David Gantt emphasized that for now, "The resolution is just a concept" to help get the conversation started, adding that the county would be willing to work with the Park Service to make it happen.
Commissioner Holly Jones praised Gantt for his leadership on the issue, calling it "a great idea." And Commissioner K. Ray Bailey used the opportunity to mention his "great old days" working as a Blue Ridge Parkway ranger.
The only member of the public to speak during a hearing on the issue was Jupiter resident Don Yelton, a conservative talk-show host and former Republican candidate for county commissioner. If the commissioners cared about views along the Parkway, he asserted, they would urge nearby property owners to voluntarily cut down obstructing trees on their land. "That would do a lot of good: It would help visitors see out," he observed.
Noting that the view from the new overlook would also feature Biltmore House, Yelton argued that the popular, privately owned tourist attraction should help cover the cost, "because they would get the same return as we would."
The commissioners listened silently, without responding to Yelton's comments.
A capital idea
The commissioners also unanimously approved a Nov. 8 referendum on a 0.25 percent sales-tax increase to fund capital improvements at A-B Tech. A sunset provision had accidentally been omitted from a similar resolution approved back in January (see "A-B Tech Seeks Sales-Tax Hike," Jan. 26 Xpress). The current wording specifies that the tax would expire in 2029.
If voters approve the move and the commissioners make it law, it would generate an estimated $6 million to $7 million annually.
A-B Tech President Hank Dunn said the increase would cost the average family of four about $40 to $45 a year while enabling the school “to invest in programs that will create jobs."
And if it’s approved, he maintained, "The community would have invested in itself. I know there will be people out there who are ideologically opposed to any tax. But they're opposed to wasteful taxes, and this isn't a wasteful tax."
After Dunn’s presentation, Gantt declared, "We're all with you."
Several members of the public disproved that assessment, however: All six people who spoke during a hearing on the matter opposed it. Most echoed the concerns of Fairview resident Mike Fryar, a former Republican candidate for commissioner who said, "The referendum should be on the ballot during a county election year, not during a municipal election when most county voters won't come out."
Yelton added that it doesn’t make sense to raise taxes in tight economic times. "We're going to have to learn how to get by on less and stretch the dollar," he argued.
And Candler resident Jerry Rice lambasted Dunn, saying the school hadn’t answered questions Rice had emailed months ago and had failed to inform him of a recent board meeting, despite his having asked to be notified.
"I support A-B Tech, but I don't support an administration that isn't transparent," he declared. "If you're going to be an informed voter, you need to inform them before. … I'm not in favor of this tax."
Dunn didn't respond to the charges. Gantt, meanwhile, observed, "Everyone will have a chance to vote, and there will be hearings for folks to get questions answered."
Commissioner Carol Peterson added: "This citizen plans to vote for it. … I see people that have jobs because of A-B Tech. … This is very important, and it will have a domino effect across this county."
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.