New commissioners set own pay at same rate as predecessors

Amid an ongoing dispute over the District 2 election results, the new Buncombe County commissioners from other areas held their first meeting Dec. 4 and set their own compensation at the same rate as their predecessors, making themselves some of the most well-paid commissioners in the state.

They voted unanimously to keep their compensation the same as it has been since February of 2011: Commissioners make $26,475 per year (including all stipends and allowances). The chair position pays $34,989 and the vice chair makes $30,732 (the commissioners held off on electing a vice chair pending the final District 2 results).

Board Chair David Gantt pushed the board to approve those rates, arguing that the new members, some of whom argued for spending cuts during the campaign, don’t yet know how much time the job will take. Gantt lamented the fact that no District 2 commissioners have been sworn in yet, noting that “a third of our county doesn’t have a voice or a specific seat on the board.”

However, noting that without acting on the issue, the sitting commissioners wouldn’t be paid anything, Gantt added: “I don’t think its fair for any of us to work without compensation.”

Earlier this year, Jones unsuccessfully pushed board members to cut their own pay by 17 percent, arguing that it would put their pay more in line with other counties in the state. But on Dec. 4 she voted along with the majority to keep it the same.

Leading up to the Nov. 6 election, District 2 Republican Mike Fryar was the most outspoken critic of the board’s compensation. All the District 2 election results have shown him winning a seat on the new board by a narrow margin, but the state Board of Elections hasn’t certified him the winner yet pending a hand recount and protest requested by Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill.

Fryar made cutting the salaries a centerpiece of his campaign, and said he was disappointed he didn’t get a chance to vote on them Dec. 4. Sitting in the audience at the meeting, he told Xpress that if he had been sworn in, he would’ve proposed cutting them below $20,000 a year. If he takes office, he said he’d bring the issue up again. Before February of 2011, every member of the board made $12,400 more per year but cut their pay after Fryar set off a firestorm of media coverage and criticism by pointing out that they were the highest-paid commissioners in the state by a significant margin.

To see how Buncombe County commissioners’ salaries stack up to commissioners in the rest of the state, see the most recent figures compiled by the U.N.C. School of Government here.

In other action, the board voted unanimously to approve:

• A request to rezone 1.58 acres at the intersection of Rowland Road and U.S. 70 in Swannanoa from residential to commercial zoning.

• A request to rezone 3.32 acres near the intersection of Lower Grassy Branch Road and Tunnel Road in Oteen from residential to commercial zoning.

• A request to rezone 5 acres in Leicester along Johnson School and Old Country Home roads in the Mill Creek condominium development higher-density residential development.

Commissioners also moved to cancel their planned Dec. 18 meeting. Their next scheduled meeting is Jan. 15.

Meanwhile, earlier during the afternoon of Dec. 4, the State Board of Elections voted unanimously to order the Buncombe County Board of Elections to recount every ballot in District 2 by hand. The recount of the approximately 48,000 ballots will begin Dec. 6 and is likely to take at least two days, according to Buncombe County Election Services Director Trena Parker.


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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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