All told, the new legislative measures will cost the county an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
A wave of unfunded state mandates is putting more pressure on Buncombe County’s already-strained budget, County Manager Wanda Greene told the commissioners at their Oct. 7 session. Since Aug. 26 of this year, reported Greene, the state has cut funding for a variety of programs, leaving Buncombe high and dry.
“The state changed the way the counties can dispense medication,” said Greene, “as well as the way we must package it.” Raleigh, however, expects the county to cover the roughly $18,000 annual cost for these new initiatives.
Other recent unfunded mandates include DNA tests for people convicted of sexual crimes — including those on probation for misdemeanors. The county is also now expected to pay for any treatment needed by inmates in the county jail.
“One inmate diagnosed with AIDS cost the county $6,400 in one week,” noted Greene. “And the county must foot the bill.” Factor in an already-overcrowded prison and rising numbers of mentally challenged people on the streets who must be treated, and it gets very expensive, she said. All told, these new legislative measures will cost the county $80,000 to $100,000 per year, Greene estimated.
Sheriff Bobby Medford also addressed the commissioners. “I don’t blame [the state] for putting it on the county,” he said, adding, “My job is to house these people, and they need health care.” The overcrowded county jail, Medford explained, receives anywhere from 18 to 50 new inmates per day. “We can’t turn folks out; we cannot refuse to take someone to jail.” Another costly mandate requires the county to take care of inmates incarcerated for civil contempt.
The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, reported Medford, is meeting in High Point to work on overturning these unfunded mandates. The sheriff’s departments in 98 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are members of the organization, he said. Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey expressed frustration with the state, and Commissioner Bill Stanley agreed. Stanley made a motion that the board officially express its concern about the unfunded state mandates; the resolution passed unanimously. It will be passed on to North Carolina’s 99 other counties before being forwarded to the General Assembly.
Government expo spotlights county services
An upcoming County Government Expo at the Asheville Mall will showcase the many county programs that the public may not be aware of, reported Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes. County employees from every department are volunteering to appear at the event, she said. The expo will feature such services as flu shots, mammograms, dental checkups for children, and child ID cards. There’ll also be information about foster care, a voting machine, a petting-zoo (compliments of the Nature Center), and many other exhibits and services. The expo will take place Saturday, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Asheville Mall. For more information, check the county’s Web site (www.buncombecounty.org).
Rabies surfaces in Buncombe County
More than 60 animals in Buncombe County have tested positive for rabies in the last six months, said Shelly Moore of Animal Control Services. “This a new phenomenon for Buncombe County,” she noted.
There’s also been an increase in the number of severely aggressive dogs and human interactions with them, creating further public-health concerns.
Animal Control staffer Ellen Frost, meanwhile, voiced a larger concern: The county, she said, spends about $1 million per year (including donations and income from animal-adoption services) dealing with the results of irresponsible pet ownership. A great deal of that money, she noted, goes toward putting down the nearly 6,000 animals eliminated each year. Frost would like the county to respond more proactively instead of “cleaning up the messes caused by relatively few irresponsible people.” Commissioner David Gantt commended Moore and Frost for the agency’s work. It’s time “we think outside the box toward more progressive ideas in animal control,” Gantt declared, though he also cautioned, “It’s a tight budget time.”
Tax assessor retires
Assistant County Manager/Tax Department Director Jerome Jones made his last official appearance at a Board of Commissioners meeting. The longtime Buncombe County employee is retiring, and the board commended him on a job well done. Commissioner Gantt congratulated Jones for having achieved “one of the best collection rates in the state.” Gary Roberts will take over as the county’s new tax assessor. Jones’ assistant county manager position will go unfilled, Wanda Greene said later.
The face of change
A recently concluded project led by Dr. Paul Bartels of Warren Wilson College and the Environmental Leadership Center used various parameters to assess the impacts of changing conditions in Buncombe County. The project culminated in an 80-page book, Mapping Change, which analyzes the effects change in terms of land use, demography, water quality and housing. Bartels outlined the findings for the commissioners in a presentation using color maps from the book, which can be found at Pack Memorial Library, the WWC library, and online (at www.mappingchange.org).
The commissioners also made the following appointments: Vicki McAnulty (Parks and Recreation Advisory Board), Bruce Grooms (Local Management Entity’s governing board, which will assume oversight of mental-health services), Bill Stanley (reappointed to the Rural Transportation Advisory Committee), and Dr. Sherwin Peveroff (reappointed to the Animal Control Appeals Board).
The meeting concluded at 5:35 p.m., after which the commissioners briefly went into closed session to discuss a land matter. The board’s next scheduled meeting, on Oct. 21st, will be strictly a work session, noted Ramsey.
The monthlong series of Tuesday-evening community roundtable meetings, held in various areas of the county to allow citizens to discuss issues with the commissioners, will continue as follows: Oct. 21 (Owen High School cafeteria) and Oct. 28 (Roberson High School cafeteria). These meetings start at 7 p.m.