Commissioners consider budget, order letter calling for CTS cleanup

At its May 5 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners reviewed its tight budget — with $5.9 million in proposed cuts — and also asked its lawyers to draft a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue calling for action on cleaning up the contaminated CTS of Asheville site.

The proposed $313 million budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year cuts $5.9 million from the previous year’s, along with 86 positions. It keeps the property tax rate at the current level of 52.5 cents per $100 of property value.

County Manager Wanda Greene told the board that making the cuts has not been easy — she required every department to submit 5 percent cuts. The budget accomplishes its goal of managing to keep vital services funded during tight times without raising taxes, Greene said

“We knew that no matter how bad the economy got, how much our costs rise, we had to bring you a budget without a tax increase,” she said.

The commissioners praised the budget.

“It’s an unenviable situation we’re looking at,” Commissioner Carol Peterson said. “You’ve brought us a budget with dignity, love and a deep, deep understanding of our citizen’s needs.”

Commissioner Holly Jones noted that “now is obviously not the time for new initiatives, but in the future I’d like to look at accomplishing the goals in our strategic plan, especially things like affordable housing.”

At Greene’s suggestion, the board agreed to hold off on voting on the budget until June 23 so county officials can get better information about state legislation that may affect the county’s revenue. The board scheduled a May 19 public hearing on the budget proposal.

The commissioners also decided, by consensus, to send a letter to Gov. Perdue, asking for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to press forward on cleaning up the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site.

“Let’s sign a letter telling them to get this thing done,” Vice Chairman Bill Stanley said.

Chair David Gantt agreed.

“Let’s get this thing cleaned up,” he said, directing the county’s attorneys to “put that in a letter, that we want this cleaned up and whatever we can do, we’ll do it.”

The move came after Limestone Town Council member James Wilson read a letter reflecting a resolution passed by that body on May 14, calling for the CTS site cleanup and opposing a deal proposed by DENR that would cap CTS’ liability for the cleanup at $3 million of the Mills Gap Road site.

“The bottom line is that the site needs to be cleaned up so the ground water will not get more TCE [trichloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen] in it that will make people sick or even possible death,” Wilson read. “This is an unusual request. You set us up as a council mainly to deal with zoning issues, but this is important, and it needs to be fixed.”

— David Forbes, staff writer

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