While Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ sessions are rarely hot-blooded, passionate affairs, the Sept. 1 meeting was so brief and agreeable that nary a “nay” was heard the entire time. Perhaps the gathering was purposefully abbreviated, in order to give the commissioners time (and energy) to get to their 7 p.m. community meeting at the Reems Creek Fire Department. Or maybe things were tranquil because discussion of one of the agenda’s more loaded topics — a resolution requesting that the N.C. General Assembly update the state’s annexation laws — was postponed until next time.
The closest things came to getting tense was when longtime critic Peter Dawes politely but firmly suggested that commissioners save the taxpayers some money by doing away with the embattled Air Pollution Control Board Agency. But even that usually controversial topic elicited only a yawn — a sure sign that it was a slow night. And not a question was uttered when it was announced that the Buncombe County Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority will issue revenue bonds on behalf of Lustar Dyeing and Finishing Inc.
The Authority can issue the bonds at a municipal — rather than a corporate — rate, making them cheaper to pay off.
The company will pay the interest on the bonds, Associate County Attorney Stan Clontz explained. “The county does not pay any money on those bonds,” he emphasized, “nor do we make any guarantee of payment whatsoever to investors who purchase those bonds.” But because the bonds are being issued by a county authority, the board is required to conduct a public hearing, allowing community members to express opinions on the matter.
Lustar General Manager Larry Casper thanked the board for helping the company secure what he called “a low-interest loan.” He went on to explain that Lustar is guaranteed, through its commercial bank, to repay the principal and interest.
“We appreciate you making jobs and businesses here,” replied Commissioner David Gantt.
Commissioners also approved the hiring of seven additional school-based social workers through the county Department of Social Services and the Buncombe County Schools. Designed to address the children of low-income families, the school social work program is working out “exceptionally well,” said Social Services Director Calvin Underwood. “We know … that children we work with perform better academically, because we’re able to get into their homes and get to know the parents, and work out any problems. The children don’t have to bring their problems to the school setting.”
Funded through Medicaid and the schools themselves, the program presently employs two school-based social workers — one each in the city and county schools. “We want to add two to the county,” Underwood explained, adding, “An additional five [are] being proposed for the city.”
Commissioner Patsy Keever, a schoolteacher, praised the program but lamented the fact that county schools are receiving fewer workers than the city schools. “Obviously, the county has a lot more students, but the city has more money,” she said. “Good for them.”
Underwood also briefed commissioners on a new program to provide health insurance for North Carolina children. The program, called NC Health Choice, was approved by the General Assembly in a special session and will begin Oct. 1. Nearly 2,000 children from low-income families in Buncombe County are expected to be eligible for the program; an additional 1,700 children are estimated to be eligible but not registered with Medicaid.
Providing these services, Underwood pointed out, will not increase the county’s budget, because federal and state grant funds will cover the costs.
The Association of Retarded Citizens of Buncombe County, a program providing respite care, in-home health aides and other services, asked commissioners to reconsider their denial of the group’s request for $2,500 for the current fiscal year. The ARC stressed that the money would be earmarked for its Assistance to Individuals project, which provides dental and medical care, in-home customized health aids, eyeglasses, clothing, fuel oil and transportation to and from doctors’ offices. County Manager Wanda Greene suggested that — if the commissioners did, in fact, grant the group any funding — the money would have to come from contingency funds.
Commissioner Bill Stanley, affirming his support for the program, moved that $2,000 be granted. The motion was seconded by Keever, and it passed unanimously.
Another organization, the 4-H and FFA Leadership Program, also asked for funding. Kenneth Reeves spoke on behalf of the program, requesting assistance for partial sponsorship for young people who have earned the right to go on to regional, state and national competitions. As it stands, Reeves said, the kids and their families have to fund themselves.
But as he listed the members of the committee that would administer the funds, Commissioner Keever noted that all five are white males. “Are there any girls involved?” she asked. “You need to work on the board — add a couple of women, or take off a few men.”
Reeves reminded Keever that 60 percent of 4-H’s members are females, but he conceded that her point was well taken. The program was awarded the full $10,000.
Advice and dissent
During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Peter Dawes complained that the Air Pollution Control Authority Agency is out of control and that one board member in particular, Roy “Doc” Roberts, is rude to the general public. “I think the man should be withdrawn,” said Dawes, ” … and a woman placed on the board.” But, as noted above, he then went on to suggest that the entire board be abolished: “They have no running water in their lab, and they have one microscope. They have four-wheel-drive vehicles, the biggest polluters you can name, sitting out there in the parking lot.”
The APCA is under investigation by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission on charges that the agency is not properly enforcing pollution regulations in Buncombe and Haywood counties, and that it is reluctant to fine polluters.
Community meetings on TV
In addition to the regular Thursday-evening spots, the board’s community meetings will air Fridays at 9 a.m. on Intermedia Channel 10 and Charter Cable Channel 6, and at 8 p.m. on Marcus Cable.
“That’s really an awful time,” Commissioner David Young complained. He asked county Public Relations Coordinator Jill Thompson to press for a better time.
Paula O’Hara, Melanie Mann, Arlo Jennings and Frederick Terry were appointed to the Workforce Development Board.
John Cram and James France were reappointed to the Tourism Development Authority.
Cecelia Watson and Marvin Michalove were appointed to the Environmental Affairs Board.