Buncombe County Commission

Buncombe County library lovers will have a new reason to smile next year.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last week to issue $3.95 million in general-obligation bonds to pay for library construction and improvements to the county health center.

The biggest impact may be for west-Buncombe residents, who’ll get a new branch library in Leicester. Library Director Ed Sheary told the commissioners at their Sept. 12 regular meeting that the library is being designed by Asheville architects Farrell & Hargrove, who also designed the Fairview library.

“People love that building,” Sheary said of the Fairview branch. “We really didn’t feel the need to change much.”

The county will take construction bids in mid-October, and the library is scheduled to open next fall on Alexander Road, about a quarter-mile off Leicester Highway. The county has set aside more than $1 million for roughly 5,500-square-foot branch, which will be , house 30,000 volumes and include a community room.

Other branches will also get a cut of the bond cash. Weaverville’s library, housed in the sanctuary of the former First Baptist Church (built in 1929), will expand into existing unrenovated space. The project will nearly double the library’s size (to 7,000 square feet) and provide handicapped access at an estimated cost of a $667,907. Construction is expected to start in December or January and be finished next fall, Sheary said.

The heavily used South Buncombe branch, built in 1986, will also be expanded next fall (to 8,000 square feet) at a projected cost of $786,389. Sheary estimated that construction will take about nine months.

Sheary said the bond money also will pay for buying the Enka branch library from BASF, assuming that the current negotiations are successful.

Commissioner David Young asked Sheary about the North Asheville library, noting that the branch is “somewhat rundown.”

Sheary said the city-owned building recently got new carpeting and windows, but because there’s no room to expand on site, the branch may need to be relocated. A library committee will study the issue this fall.

Improvements planned for the Buncombe County Health Center, estimated to cost $1.05 million, will include a new roof, noted Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton.

“We’re basically trying to bring that building back to life,” he said.

The bonds will be sold by the N.C. Local Government Commission on Oct. 17. The overall interest rate is anticipated to be 5.15 percent, Finance Director Nancy A. Brooks told the commissioners.

The bond bandwagon

The commissioners also gave their unanimous stamp of approval to a resolution supporting a statewide education bond issue that would benefit A-B Tech and UNCA. A referendum on the $3.1 billion statewide package will be held Nov. 7.

A-B Tech’s share would be $14 million, while UNCA would get $49.9 million.

“We’re excited about that,” A-B Tech President K. Ray Bailey told the board.

If voters approve the bond proposal, A-B Tech will spend its share on a computer-technology center, a hospitality-education center, and on renovating and equipping the buildings expected to be donated by BASF in Enka, Bailey said.

BASF is expected to donate 36 acres and three buildings (totaling 252,000 square feet) to A-B Tech, Bailey said after the meeting. Those buildings will be used as a small-business incubator and (in partnership with Western Carolina University) a corporate-training center.

UNCA’s share would pay for building a $22 million science building, retrofitting two academic buildings, and much of the cost of renovating and expanding the Highsmith Student Center, said UNCA Chancellor Dr. James H. Mullen Jr. The bond issue would cover $9.4 million of the $12.5 million Highsmith project, according to UNCA.

Skeptical Fairview resident Gerald Dean — the Reform Party candidate for a seat on the Board of Commissioners — questioned whether a tax increase would result, commenting, “Unless they’ve started counterfeiting, it’s coming out of people’s paychecks.”

But Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol disagreed, noting that state officials have said the bond issue will not require a tax increase, an assurance also posted on the Web site promoting the bond issue (www.uncbuildings.org).

Tangling with the watchdogs

Spicing up a mostly sedate meeting were comments from the regular band of county-government watchers, who raised the ire of a couple of commissioners.

Candler resident Jerry Rice suggested that the commissioners create a personnel board to ensure that dismissed employees have a fair hearing. But County Manager Wanda Greene said the county already has a personnel ordinance that is clear on the grievance process.

Greene continued that any time someone leaves a county job, officials look at ways to restructure responsibilities to do more with less. Though Greene didn’t name names, she said a vacancy in the Budget Department (prompted by the firing of Budget Director Ken Goble in July) allowed her to reorganize the department and save $92,000.

Rice asked for an itemized list of those savings. He also suggested that the commissioners look into whether Greene had been insubordinate in not following her job description.

Rice said after the meeting that he was referring to a part of Greene’s job description requiring her to report the removal of employees to the commissioners at the board meeting following the personnel action — which he says wasn’t done in Goble’s case.

Greene said later that she doesn’t believe she’s been insubordinate. County employees routinely leave, she said, and she doesn’t report each one to the commissioners — nor do they discuss personnel issues at meetings.

“I think the commissioners would know if I’ve been insubordinate,” Greene said.

Commissioner David Gantt chastised Rice for bringing up personnel matters in a public venue.

“This is a political thing. … I wish you’d keep your political things at political rallies,” Gantt said.

Don Yelton said he’d like to hear a report on what board members learned during their trip to Austin, Texas, Sept. 6-8. as part of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s InterCity visit. Yelton added that whether or not the commissioners had paid for the trip, they had given the Economic Development Commission quite a bit of money; he quipped that he’d send every one of them to Austin if they gave him $300,000.

Commissioner Young countered that the EDC has nothing to do with a private foundation paying for the trip.

“Let’s not skew the facts,” cautioned Young.

(The Beattie Foundation, set up by local resident Joel B. Adams Jr. and his family, paid about $1,500 per person to cover the commissioners’ costs on the trip, Gantt said after the meeting.)

Then Vice Chair Patsy Keever asked Yelton who had paid for Peter Dawes (who videotapes the commissioners’ meetings for a cable-TV show) to go to Austin. Yelton replied that he didn’t send Dawes to Texas and suggested she ask Dawes (while also noting that the press aren’t allowed to speak at commissioners’ meetings).

Sobol interjected that the board’s policy has been established on that matter.

“You can report the news or make the news,” Sobol said.

Gantt said later that he (and perhaps other commissioners) will report on the Austin fact-finding trip at the board’s next meeting.

Biltmore School extension

On a less-rancorous note, the board agreed to extend until the end of February the deadline for the WNC Historical Association to buy the old Biltmore School for use as a regional museum. So far, Greene noted, the association has raised $240,000 of the $1 million needed to leverage an $800,000 challenge grant from The Janirve Foundation, a private philanthropic agency based in Asheville. The association plans to approach the General Assembly for funding, she said.

Appointments

The board unanimously made the following appointments (and reappointments): James Daniels, Economic Development Commission; Pauline Council, Edie Grissinger and John Churchill, Adult Care Home Board; Norma Williams, Doris Matthews and Linda Dunlop, Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee; Donna Cator, Land-of-Sky Regional Council Advisory Council on Aging; Scott Riviere, Historic Resources Commission; Karl Koon, Planning and Zoning Commission for Asheville; and Doug Keen, Ed Anderson and Anita Downs, Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

Upcoming sessions

The board will hold two informational sessions, featuring guest speakers, over the next two months . The Sept. 26 session will focus on human services, while the Oct. 24 session will explore mental-health topics. The board plans to hold its regular sessions on Oct. 3 and Oct. 31.

All the meetings will be held at 4 p.m. in the county commissioners’ chambers on the second floor of the Buncombe County Courthouse.

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