Hitting home

Bee local: The commissioners voiced support for the 10% Campaign, which urges North Carolina residents to spend more of their food dollars on locally produced products, such as this jar of honey from a farm in Yancey County. photo by Bill Rhodes (honey provided by Fresh Quarter Produce)

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Nov. 15, 2011 meeting

  • Residents still divided over tax increase
  • Planning Board appointments postponed

The Buncombe County commissioners kicked off their Nov. 15 meeting by reiterating their support for local farmers with an update on the N.C. Cooperative Extension's statewide 10% Campaign, which urges Tar Heel residents to spend more of their food dollars locally.

The idea is to get people, organizations and businesses to commit to spending 10 percent of their food budget on products grown, harvested or produced in North Carolina, Melinda Roberts explained. Since the project’s launch in July of last year, 104 county residents and 13 businesses have committed to the target, pumping more than $150,000 into the state's food economy, she reported. Only 10 other counties in the state had more participants, she said, noting that the local numbers continue to increase.

Roberts, the local-food coordinator for the Buncombe County Extension office, asked the commissioners to support the campaign, perhaps by encouraging county departments and employees to participate and promoting it via the website and other marketing efforts.

Buncombe doesn't "have a formal policy, but we try to buy local," responded County Manager Wanda Greene. David Gantt, who chairs the Board of Commissioners, said he wants to formalize the county's support of the project, asking staff to have a proclamation ready for a vote at the Dec. 6 meeting.

"It's hard to meet the goal if you don't know what the target is," Gantt observed. He went on to tout the benefits of community-supported agriculture, in which members pay an up-front fee in exchange for a weekly share of what the farm produces.

Having more folks join CSAs is a key part of the 10% Campaign, noted Roberts.

"It's really beneficial for farmers, because it gives them income in advance. So it allows them to have the money to purchase seeds," she explained. "It's a risk for the person that's paying for it, because sometimes you do have crop failure. But usually you get things in abundance."

Gantt concurred, saying, "When my family has participated in that, we got more food than we thought we would." He added: "It's a priority of this board to encourage farming, preserve farmland and make sure farmers can make a living."

Commissioner Holly Jones also praised CSAs and the Extension campaign, gushing, "It's fantastic to invest dollars in local food."

Community split over A-B Tech referendum

Although there was nothing directly related to A-B Tech on the meeting's agenda, a number of school officials were present, including Hank Dunn.

Gantt invited him to speak, noting that as the community college’s president, Dunn has had a busy year campaigning on behalf of a quarter-cent sales-tax increase that would benefit the school. County residents approved the increase by a razor-thin margin in a Nov. 8 referendum: 503 votes out of more than 33,000 cast. The commissioners pledged to use to fund capital improvements at the school.

"We're here just to say thank you to the commissioners for allowing the vote to go on the ballot," Dunn explained. "It was certainly a little closer than we ever thought it was going to be, but we appreciate the support of the community. When people see the commissioners and A-B Tech coming together to do what we said we were, I think they'll be very pleased with the results."

During the public-comment period, however, Mike Fryar, a former Republican candidate for commissioner who’d actively campaigned against the measure, said he wasn't the least bit happy with the results.

Fryar maintained that it wasn’t fair to hold the referendum in a year when there were no countywide races on the ballot. And because the vote was so close, he asserted, the commissioners should hold another vote on the measure next year before levying the tax.

Noting the split between city and county voters (a majority of Asheville voters supported the measure, and most voters outside the city limits opposed it), Fryar commented: "A lot of people in Buncombe County are mad. We don't want to call this 'A Tech' — it's called Asheville-Buncombe Technical institution. And the way this was done, it's A Tech."

Fryar also questioned the legality of the push to get the tax increase approved, submitting a request for detailed information concerning the campaign’s finances and coordination with county officials.

Next up was Candler resident Jerry Rice, who chastised both county and school officials for not providing information about the college and the sales tax that he said he’d requested several months ago.

“We need a democracy that will listen to the people," Rice declared.

Other business

In addition, the commissioners:
• Unanimously approved a resolution asking the state Department of Transportation to dedicate the Interstate 26 overpass at Long Shoals Road as the "Justice Harry C. Martin Bridge." Martin was an associate justice on the state Supreme Court from 1982 to 1992; in 2000, he was named chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, which made him an honorary member when he retired in 2006.
• Heard a report on county government's carbon footprint from General Services Director Greg Israel, who originally delivered the report during the commissioners’ Sept. 13 meeting (see "Going Green," Sept. 21 Xpress) but was asked to repeat it because Gantt and Jones were absent at that time. Between 2005 and 2010, the amount of carbon county government operations released into the atmosphere rose from 23,416 metric tons to 26,096 metric tons, according to Israel. That was due mostly to a jump from nearly 1.3 million square feet of county-owned facilities in 2005 to more than 1.5 million square feet five years later. During the same period, however, the county actually reduced its energy use per square foot, replacing windows at the courthouse and updating heating and air-conditioning systems.
• Delayed a decision on Planning Board appointments until Dec. 6.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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