Buncombe County Commission

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Nov. 19 to restore partial funding to the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council.

The CRC is one of many nonprofits whose county funding was cut from the commissioners’ 2002-03 budget last June. Director Bob Smith made his plea before the board for funds to continue long-running programs. The council was created by the Board of Commissioners, City Council and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce in the late 1950s to consider ways to improve race relations, address housing and employment discrimination, and promote integration.

Smith highlighted some of the group’s accomplishments, including pushing for representation of women and minorities on local boards and commissions, and supporting businesses headed by women and minorities. In recent years, the CRC has promoted discussion of the Erwin High mascot (which was offensive to some Native Americans, who brought the issue to the county school board) and consolidation of the city and county schools. The council also organized community events following 9/11 and supported the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, an annual tradition begun in 1983.

County Commissioners had budgeted $15,000 for the Council for FY 2002-03, with an additional $15,000 pledged at such time as a new half cent sales tax went into effect. Commissioner David Gantt, a strong supporter of the CRC, wanted to provide an additional $50,000 to bring the Council to near its 2000 county funding level of $88,000.

“Our mission … has been severely hampered,” said Smith about the funding cuts over the last two years. “We’ve closed more housing and employment cases than ever before,” he reported, “but we’ve also had to turn away more cases.” Those seeking help in employment-discrimination cases are directed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Charlotte, which has a one-year backlog of cases. In contrast, the CRC takes about 60 to 70 days to close a case, said Smith. The Woman of the Year program, which recognizes local women for outstanding contributions to the community, and the school essay and poster contest would have to be discontinued unless the group received additional funding, he added. Smith also noted that both the city and county are at risk of losing HUD funds because of the cutback in Council staff.

“We have an obligation … to give these people sufficient funds,” Gantt told his fellow commissioners. “[The Council] cuts out the lawyers and cuts out expense. The bottom line is that it protects the little men and little women of Buncombe County. … There must be a way to fund [the CRC] in a budget of $200 million.”

Gantt made a motion to provide the additional $50,000 and Commissioner Patsy Keever seconded. Board of Commissioners Commissioner David Young made a motion for $30,000 and to direct the county manager to meet with the city manager to discuss future funding. Chairman Nathan Ramsey and Vice Chairman Bill Stanley joined Young, with Keever and Gantt opposed. The $30,000 total represents the $15,000 the board had been initially appropriated plus an “advance” on the $15,000 payment the board had previously pledged whenever tax revenue from the new sales tax comes in, Budget Officer Mamie Scott said later.

“We really needed to have our funding restored,” said Smith after the meeting. “We were at a skeleton crew with the funding; now we’re going to get farther behind.”

Special events for families and kids

Commissioners proclaimed the week of Nov. 24-30 Family Week. Kezia Scales of the Communities in Schools program accepted the proclamation from Commissioner Gantt and announced upcoming family-oriented events to take place at Pack Place on Saturday, Nov. 23 as part of Family Week.

Vice Chairman Stanley presented a proclamation to Land Records Office which oversees the county Geographic Information System. The week of Nov. 17-23 was named National Geography Week, and Nov. 20 was singled out as Geographic Information Systems Day in Buncombe County. GIS is a computer software system that links geographic information with descriptive information about property in the county. Marie Monteith of the county Land Records Office said GIS was planning to present geography programs for children at Sand Hill and Fairview elementary schools on Nov. 20. “We want to introduce children to the concept of GIS and how geography affects them,” said Monteith after the meeting.

Board appointments

Commissioners made only one board appointment at the meeting. Miriam Hearn was appointed to the Board of Adjustment for the town of Canton. (Since Buncombe County’s Sandy Mush community is in Canton’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, the board is required to have a Sandy Mush resident on it, Buncombe County’s Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes explained later.) Appointments to the Planning Board were delayed until the commissioners’ next meeting, and Ramsey noted that nominations will be accepted until then. Ramsey also stated that the Nursing Home Board has eight vacancies and encouraged citizens to apply.

Following the meeting, commissioners met in closed session to discuss a personal matter.

The board’s next meeting is set for Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 4:30 p.m. in room 204 of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The meeting will be preceded by a work session (including time for public comment) at 4 p.m.

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