Buncombe County Commission

Perhaps the summer doldrums struck the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners last week — or was it a desire to lie low for the sake of their respective parties in the days leading up to the Sept. 10 primary? Whatever the reason, the board breezed through a light agenda on Sept. 3 that focused mainly on whether to issue $4.3 million in public construction bonds, $15 million in school bonds, and re-fund $24.5 million in variable-rate bonds.

In the last edition of “Countywatch,” Xpress mistakenly jumped the gun by reporting that the commissioners had voted Aug. 20 to issue the bonds. In fact, the board had merely approved a first reading of a resolution to issue the bonds and scheduled a public hearing on the matter.

That hearing, held last week, centered on whether to reissue $4.3 million in general-obligation bonds (the maximum amount that can be reissued of bonds that are being retired). The $4.3 million would be divided as follows: $525,000 to buy the Enka Library (which the county now leases); $1.2 million for new administrative offices for Recreation Services, renovations to the Erwin Pool, and new field lights at Charles D. Owen District Park; $1 million to renovate the Department of Social Services/JTPA building; and $1.6 million for a Health Center computer system.

The board was also considering whether to refund $24.5 million in other bonds and issue $15 million in school bonds that had been approved by referendum several years ago but not issued. The refunding, explained Finance Director Donna Clark, is projected to save the county $500,000 over the next 20 years in administrative costs, she noted.

Only a few people spoke at the hearing, including Leicester resident Alan Ditmore, who said in part that he’d like to see more parity for libraries in the bond issue.

County Manager Wanda Greene countered that the county has made significant capital investments in its libraries in recent years. Commissioner David Gantt, however, said that Ditmore had posed an excellent question and asked Greene to talk about library funding in her next county manager’s report.

County resident Jerry Rice asked how much the county would spend on legal fees in connection with reissuing the bonds. (The Charlotte firm of Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson is serving as bond counsel.)

“Too much,” joked Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey.

Gantt said it depended on the size of the issue; he asked Clark to get the info for Rice.

With little more discussion, the board voted unanimously to go ahead with the bond issues.

The commissioners also held a public hearing on whether to supply local matching funds (using forfeited drug-dealing proceeds) for a $100,000 federal grant received by the Sheriff’s Department. Capt. Lee Farnsworth said the department planned to spend the bulk of the money on new equipment for its radio system. No member of the public commented on the matter.

I have an opinion

Only four people addressed the board during the public-comment session held before the sparsely attended formal meeting. Rice was among them; he chided the commissioners for relegating too much business to the board’s consent agenda and not discussing more of it in the open.

A longtime supporter of the now-abandoned practice of televising public comment, Rice added: “Since you took public comment off TV, your ratings have gone down.” That remark produced chuckles from the audience and even a few smiles from board members.

Don Yelton voiced similar sentiments, noting that there had been no board discussion of a new Health Center policy that will require manufactured-home-park owners to submit an individual application and inspection request before hooking up a mobile home to an existing septic tank. The old rules (which didn’t fully comply with state law) allowed the county to check multiple connections during an annual mobile-home-park inspection, according to a letter Yelton received from the Health Center. The new rule takes effect Sept. 15.

And Eric Gorny repeated his persistent (but always polite) request that the board take public comment after presentations are made on a given topic — but before the commissioners vote on it.

“You can’t read our minds,” Gorny observed. “You don’t know everything that we’re thinking.”

Names and faces

Switching to ceremonial mode, the commissioners rolled out a handful of proclamations, recognizing Department of Social Services retiree Joan Miller (who noted that she’s moving to Costa Rica) and honoring the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District’s 50th anniversary. They also proclaimed Sept. 11 as “Spirit of America Day of Caring and Remembrance,” Sept. 16-20 as Minority Enterprise Development Week, and Sept. 11-17 as Kids Voting Week.

The commissioners unanimously appointed Lynn Bonham Carland to the Agricultural Advisory Board and reappointed the following members: John Ager, Ed Bulluck, William Gillespie, Ernest Henderson and David Lee.

On the fly

The commissioners canceled their Sept. 17 meeting, since three of them (Gantt, Ramsey and Commissioner Patsy Keever) will be in Portland, Ore., Sept. 17-20 along with five Asheville City Council members for the eighth annual InterCity Visit. The project is organized by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and funded by a grant from the Beattie Foundation.

All told, 55 local folks from both the public and private sectors are slated to make the trip, designed to explore how other areas approach community and economic-development issues, Laura Copeland of the Chamber said later. This is the second attempt to go to Portland — last year, she said, travel plans were abandoned on Sept. 11 after delegates had gotten as far as Atlanta.

The next commissioners’ meeting will be held on Oct. 1. The “pre-meeting” — which includes an opportunity for public comment — starts at 4 p.m., followed by the formal session at 4:30 p.m.

Consent agenda

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved the following items by consent at its Sept. 3 meeting:

• the minutes of the Aug. 20 regular meeting;

• authorization for the chairman to execute a quitclaim deed to John Savage for $6,000;

• an amendment to the subdivisions chapter of the county code;

• a request to the N.C. Department of Transportation that it add the Reynolds community to official state maps and put up signs showing its location;

• approval of pyrotechnics experts to conduct fireworks displays at the Mountain State Fair on Sept. 14;

• authorization for the chairman to sign a grant agreement for a $604,709 project at the Asheville Regional Airport to install runway lighting, rehab taxiway lighting, and build one part of a security/service road;

• a capital-projects budget amendment; and

• the following budget amendments: Child Care Services’ Smart Start subsidy revenues and expenditures ($800,252); projected revenues for the Fletcher Fire Department ($71,858); and carrying over Recreation Services grant funds from fiscal year 2001-02 into the current fiscal year ($381,216).

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