Buncombe County Commissioners annual retreat hints at upcoming priorities

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners met yesterday, Dec. 14, for a full day of brainstorming sessions on a wide variety of issues, including health care reform, a new marketing campaign, land-use regulations, a proposal to fund improvements at A-B Tech with a sales-tax hike, and more. Here’s a few of the highlights.

• Commissioners considered putting a one-quarter-of-1-cent sales-tax increase on the ballot next year to help fund $130 million in building improvements at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. School President Hank Dunn was on hand to make the case for the measure, emphasizing that the school helps train residents for work and that the money would be an “investment in jobs.” In response, the board seemed supportive of putting the idea to a public vote next November. If they do, Dunn promised that the school would wage a major campaign to get out the vote.

• The county plans to launch a renovated version of its website in March. The new site “will have a real focus on social media. Because that’s where everything is going, like it or not,” explained Kathy Hughes, the county’s public relations director. County government’s marketing theme for next year will be “Grow BC,” with an emphasis on promoting the concept of a “greener, kinder, smarter, safer” Buncombe County, she revealed.  After watching a promotional video touting the public-relations campaign, the board expressed universal support. “I think it’s inspired,” remarked commissioner Holly Jones.

• County Human Resources Director Rob Thornberry briefed commissioners on how he thinks national health-care reform might affect the government’s budget and employee benefits. He explained that the reform means many “wonderful things for individual employees” but that there’s no “free lunch.” Some of the changes may come with big costs. For example, the new law will require the county to expand its coverage to include temporary employees, the children of employees up to age 26, and new hires (currently the county has a waiting period of six months). Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone also discussed how the law could affect county services, explaining that the changes will make about 65,000 Buncombe residents newly eligible for Medicaid. The county is responsible for funding about 50 percent Medicaid’s administration costs.

• Commissioners instructed staff to adjust county policies concerning appointees to public boards. They want to raise the required attendance of appointees to 75 percent of all board meetings from the current 60 percent, with exceptions granted for “family situations” or other special circumstances. In other updates, the board requested that all appointees be listed on the county website and all vacancies be included in their regular meeting agendas.

• County planning staff brainstormed possible priorities for next year and sought guidance from the commissioners. They reached consensus to look into restrictions on retaining walls. They also decided to continue to study the possible benefits and problems associated with the development of wind turbines on area ridges for producing renewable electricity.

• County Manager Wanda Greene updated the commissioners on the need to name county properties next year. The board made plans to amend its policy to also allow it to name individual rooms within the buildings. While any building and room names will ultimately need to be approved by the commissioners, they continue to accept suggestions from the general public. To suggest a name, e-mail Kathy Hughes at Kathy.Hughes@buncombecounty.org.

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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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