Buncombe Commissioners preview: grants, taxes (and prayer?)

Tomorrow’s meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners looks to be light, with little business on the agenda except pursuing unpaid taxes and distributing low-income housing grants. But in the wake of a recent court ruling, the board’s opening prayer may be a topic of heated discussion.

The board will discuss pursuing still-unpaid property taxes and distributing $500,000 in state development grants to help repair and improve low-income housing around the area.

While that takes up most of the board’s new business, the prayer issue may well arise in the public comment period. In a recent federal court ruling, a judge found the Forsyth County commissioners’ opening meeting prayer unconstitutional. Forsyth’s prayer closely mirrors Buncombe’s, and both are almost always Christian in nature. The similarities have caused county legal staff some concerns, and the board was mulling replacing the prayer with a moment of silence, before deciding, for now, to keep the policy.

Also, the board’s reluctance to discuss the issue during a public meeting may play a role. After announcing that the board would take up the issue at its Jan. 5 meeting, Chair David Gantt contacted the other commissioners individually over the holidays and decided to keep the current policy in place, a move that a North Carolina Press Association attorney said violated the spirit of the state’s open meetings law, if not the letter.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will meet on 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 2, in the commissioners’ chambers at 30 Valley St. A short pre-meeting review of the agenda will begin at 4:15 p.m.

—David Forbes


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