In its final session before the Nov. 2 balloting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners took no prisoners — and no chances — unanimously approving the few matters requiring votes. Determined to adjourn in time for a 5:30 p.m. reception honoring emergency workers and other county employees who pitched in during the recent floods, the four commissioners in attendance (David Gantt was absent) smiled politely through the formalities and sped through business items, winding up with five minutes to spare.
During the public-comment period, Kitzi Bocock, who owns land along U.S. 74A within the city/county joint planning area, pleaded with the commissioners to resolve the legal status of her property. “My family have been residents for generations. My father invested in land to benefit my mother and me, but the land has been locked up by delays. … I ask you to stick with this process, find the logjams of communication, and find solutions.”
In the ensuing brief exchanges among commissioners and staff members, it became clear that no action would occur until after the new board is elected and discussions about the joint planning area can take place.
Beasts, books and taser guns
Standing before a packed meeting room, Mary Clayton-McGlauflin and Steve Duckett of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s Buncombe County Center presented the county’s prize-winning 4-H Club members. In the Clover Buds category (children under age 9), the honors went to some youngsters who grew 41 pounds of produce and donated it to Manna Food Bank. At the high-school level, students who have won state and national awards in animal husbandry and livestock judging were recognized.
Following the 4-H presentation, the room began to empty. And with each succeeding speaker, the numbers dwindled further, until only perennial county watchdog Jerry Rice, this reporter and a guard were left.
Asheville-Buncombe Library System Director Ed Sheary presented a slide show detailing progress on the new North Branch building on Merrimon Avenue. The new facility, which overlooks Beaver Lake and the Audubon Society’s bird sanctuary, is on track to open in April 2005, he reported.
The board issued a proclamation establishing November as Adoption Awareness Month, noting that about one-third of the 9,000-plus children under the care of the Department of Social Services system are in need of adoptive homes.
A public hearing followed concerning a federal block-grant application proposed by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department. Capt. Lee Farnsworth presented a routine request from Sheriff Bobby Medford asking board approval to seek $21,100 for new equipment, including two electro-shock taser guns and special rugged uniforms for use during physically demanding duty (such as flood emergency service). Farnsworth said the dollar amount is determined by the federal government, based on the local crime rate. “The lower the crime rate, the less we get in the block grant,” he said. “Last year, it was above $70,000. So less money is good news, I guess.”
There was no public discussion, and the board unanimously approved the request.
Welfare down, conservation up
Department of Social Services Program Administrator Tim Rhodes presented the DSS Work First plan for 2005-07. Under the program, he said, the number of people on cash welfare has shrunk from a high of almost 7,000 in 1993 to about 1,100 now. “During fiscal year 2004, 149 recipients left cash welfare to go to work,” noted Rhodes.
Gary Higgins, director of the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District, reported that his department has been assessing stream-bank damage from the recent floods. “Under the Emergency Watershed Protection Program,” he said, “the federal government provides 75 percent of the funds for approved projects, while the local sponsor pays 25 percent. There is $917,000 available for six or seven counties.” Higgins said the department had submitted 14 sites in need of urgent attention and had received approval for funds sufficient to restore five or six of them, depending on the precise costs. This would entail a $122,514 commitment by the county, much of which Higgins said could be supplied as in-kind payment.
But Commissioner David Young wasn’t satisfied, asking, “You don’t think there will be any financial cost to get the streams up to par?” To which County Manager Wanda Greene answered, “We’re looking to the state for the 25 percent.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey asked Higgins, “How much is available from the [U.S. Department of Agriculture]?”
Higgins replied, “We may get one-quarter of the $3 million available.”
The commissioners appointed Mandy Stone to the board of the Western Highlands Network and approved a consent agenda that included auction of surplus vehicles, an amendment to the capital-projects budget, and amendments to the budgets for health, work-force investment and child-care services to account for new grants and an increase in patient-services income.
County Attorney Joe Connolly affirmed that the agenda contained no legal issues requiring a closed session, and the meeting was adjourned at 5:24 p.m., moments before the festivities were scheduled to begin downstairs.