Buncombe commissioners preview: Greenways and greenbacks

After years of planning and public meetings, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will consider approving a proposal Sept. 4 to build an extensive greenway system linking towns, parks, schools and other key sites throughout the county.

The Greenway and Trails Master Plan envisions about 89 miles of new greenways that link to the 13 miles of greenways that already exist in municipalities such as Asheville. Several of the proposed pathways follow waterways such as the Swannanoa and French Broad rivers.

However, if the board approves the plan, it won’t necessarily mean that the greenways will be built anytime soon. Staff is not recommending that any funding or staffing for implementation be approved at the Sept. 4 meeting.

Instead, the motion before the board calls for punting specific funding decisions until the spring, when the county manager drafts the budget for the next fiscal year. That means that the next board of commissioners, to be decided in the Nov. 6 election, will determine how much county funds should go towards implementation.

The master plan calls for more studies to determine the exact cost of completing the greenways. However, it hints that those costs would be significant, noting that the price of building a greenway “can range from less than $30,000 per mile for a dirt path to $1 million per mile for a paved trail in an urban setting.”

A 2010 feasibility study estimates that building an 18-mile greenway along the Swannanoa River/U.S. 70 corridor from the John B. Lewis Soccer Complex on Azalea Road in Asheville to Ridgecrest, east of Black Mountain, would cost about $10.3 million.

Meanwhile, supporters argue that greenways are important to growing the county’s transportation and recreation infrastructure and will help fuel economic development.

For more on the Buncombe County greenways plan, see Xpress’ June 19 cover story, “The Path Ahead: County Greenways Plan Faces Major Hurdles.”

In other business, the board will consider a resolution to ensure that all county employees are paid a living wage. The proposal defines the “living wage” as “the amount that a worker must earn to afford his or her basic necessities without public or private assistance.” It sets it at $11.35 per hour without benefits, or $9.85 per hour with employer–provided health insurance. All regular county employees—both full time and part time – were brought up to that minimum pay grade as of July 1, according to Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics, a local nonprofit that advocates for all area employers to pay fairly.

However, Meath said the board’s measure won’t ensure that contract, temporary or seasonal employees, such as lifeguards, will be paid the living wage minimum.

The living wage resolution is listed on the meeting’s consent agenda, which usually passes with little or no debate or public comment.

The board will meet at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 4, in the commissioner’s chambers, located at 30 Valley St. A short pre-meeting review of the agenda will begin at 4:15 p.m.


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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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