Buncombe commissioners approve budget, request waterline funds to help contamination victims

Mills Gap Road resident Tate McQueen thanked the commissioners for deciding to apply for state water loan funds but said much more has to be done to safeguard his neighbors from contaminates. Photo by Max Cooper.

Here’s a list of highlights from the June 19 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. We’ll have a full report in the June 27 issue of Xpress.

On June 19, the board:

• Unanimously approved a roughly $337.7 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget holds the line on property taxes, using about $8 million in reserve funds and projected economic growth to cover a 1 percent increase in spending. Commissioner Holly Jones had previously indicated she was considering an amendment to the budget to cap county employee longevity bonuses at $3,000 per year (they currently amount to between 3 and 7 percent of employee salaries). However, Jones and the other commissioners chose not to make any changes to the personnel policy, pending a study due to be presented at the board’s next meeting (Aug. 7). About 35 employees attended the meeting; several staffers made the case to the commissioners that the current pay system was appropriate and affective.

• Unanimously decided to apply for $4 million in state water quality loans that would be used to connect 129 residents in the Mills Gap Road area to the city of Asheville’s public water system. Chemicals from the area’s former CTS site have allegedly contaminated many residential wells. If the no-interest loans are received, the county would then work with the Environmental Protection Agency to try to get CTS to repay the money, said County Manager Wanda Greene. Several Mills Gap residents attended the meeting and praised the move. The county won’t know until September if it will get the loans, said Greene.

• Unanimously approved the purchase of property at 93 Victoria Road from Horizon Management Services for $2.38 million. The purchase was requested by A-B Tech, and the property will be used by the community college. The purchase will be funded by sales-tax revenue that the public approved in a fall referendum and that the board pledged to use for capital improvements at the school. The site is currently the home of the MAHEC Women’s Health Center.

• Unanimously decided to extend Western North Carolina Community Health Services’ lease of property at 283 Biltmore and provide 7,665 square feet of additional space. The measure will extend the lease for two years, provided that WNCCHS will see an additional 1,500 patients during each year. The county will charge $1 per year for use of the property.

See below for reports via Twitter about the meeting. Unless noted, all dispatches were done by Jake Frankel.
4:21 PM mxnews Follow @JakeFrankel and for coverage of the Buncombe Commissioners’ meeting

4:34 p.m. About to start RT @mxnews: Follow @JakeFrankel and for coverage of the Buncombe Commissioners’ meeting

4:35 PM MaryCaitlinByrd Not too late: RT @mxnews Follow @JakeFrankel and for coverage of the Buncombe Commissioners’ meeting

4:39 p.m. @michaelfmuller I wish. It’s a packed house today.

4:41 p.m. Board unanimously approves purchase of property at 93 Victoria Rd for AB Tech (at a cost of $2.38 million)

4:42 p.m. Several members of public have ?s about why the property is needed by the school and wondering what it’ll be used for.

4:45 p.m. Commissioners and staff response is short on specifics; they note the public endorsed sales tax 4 capital projects 4 school

4:47 p.m. The sales tax $ from the 0.25% increase will fund the building purchase.

4:48 p.m. Attendees applaud county’s recent credit upgrade from AA+ to AAA by Standard & Poor

4:49 p.m. County finance director Donna Clark says credit change will save county about $500k a year.

4:54 p.m. County Manager Wanda Greene defends employee longevity bonuses. Commish Holly Jones previously proposed capping them at $3K

4:59 p.m. Public Safety Com Director Clint Gorman makes case for maintaining longevity pay 4 older employyes and increasing pay 4 new hires

5:00 p.m. Gorman: longevity pay and fair compensation is neccesary to retain good employees.

5:02 p.m. Gorman accuses “local media” of claiming county “steals” (tax) money from “poor taxpayers” to pay employees.

5:04 p.m. Many county employees in attendance; they applaud Gorman’s defense of current pay structure.

5:05 p.m. RT @gordondsmith: @JakeFrankel County Manager’s role is to take direction from Commissioners, not to advocate for policy positions.

5:06 p.m. . @gordondsmith Will be interesting 2 see if any commissioners echo that sentiment tonight; nothing like that so far being expressed

5:09 p.m. Lisa Eby of county HR now touting personnell policies, says Buncombe provides great services w/ minimal staff.

5:12 p.m. Eby: changing some of the personnel policies could have “unintended consequences”

5:14 p.m. Eby: changing longevity may sound like a good idea, but if it hurts retention, it could be more costly than keeping it as is.

5:21 p.m. Jones praises ongoing HR study of personnel issues, wants to know if it will include comparisons to other NC counties. Eby: yes.

5:23 p.m. Jones: I dont want good questions about personell policies 2 b interpreted as threat to county employees. We need open conversation

5:25 p.m. Jones praises ongoing personnel study, praises staff. Wants more study to determine best path forward.

5:27 p.m. Jones: it’s important to find ways to be fair to new employees and make sure they’re just as fairly compensated as older employees.

5:32 p.m. Personnel study will be presented Aug 7

5:36 p.m. Jones wants employee cost of living raises put in budget; Greene would prefer to wait till April when they know what rate will be

5:38 p.m. Greene: To give employees same raise they got last year would take additional $1.1 million out of fund balance.

5:41 p.m. Board chair Gantt: we will always compensate employees fairly as long as I’m on this board.

5:45 p.m. Board leaves employee raises out of budget. Budget passes 5-0. Commissioner Stanley: this is my last budget. It’s been a great ride.

5:55 p.m. Nursing Home Committee member reports: local homes are in good shape overall, but could use more staff and volunteers

6:01 p.m. Asst County Manager Mandy Stone praises WNCHS health clinic: county is saving money and providing more services by contracting w it

6:12 p.m. Minnie Jones: Health conditions in community are getting worse. But our clinic is doing a great job; more with less.

6:16 p.m. Board votes 5-0 to renew WNCCHS lease for 1$/ year

6:19 p.m. Board votes 5-0 to apply for $4 million in NC Water Quality loans to pay for Mills gap residents to get AVL city water.

6:21 p.m. Well water in the area has been contaminated; the county will work with EPA to try to get CTS to pay back the county for costs.

6:22 p.m. The county won’t know if it gets loan money till September. It’s possible BC could be on the hook for the $4 million, says Greene.

6:27 p.m. Don Yelton praises water move, urges county to try to get CTS to pay cost back.

6:29 p.m. Public comment: Dist 3 Commish candidate Michelle Pace Wood urges board to look at ordinance to curtail panhandling.

6:32 p.m. Lisa Landis lambasts media for “only covering what it wants,” questions why Xpress + WLOS didn’t cover her recent trial

6:34 PM MaryCaitlinByrd RT @JakeFrankel: Board votes 5-0 to renew WNCCHS lease for 1$/ year #avlhealth
6:40 p.m. Several Arden residents affected by alleged CTS contamination thank commissioners for move to try to pay for city water.

6:46 p.m. Jerry Rice tells commish that if county finances are in such great shape, taxpayers deserve a break. Meeting adjourned.

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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