Public invited to comment on county budget, economic incentives for GE

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will turn the spotlight on members of the public during their meeting on Tuesday, June 5.

The board will conduct two public hearings: one on its FY19 budget and another on the issuance of economic incentives for GE Aviation, which earlier this year announced plans to invest $105 million in its Asheville location.

Budget

The county’s FY 2019 general fund budget is about 3.6 percent smaller than the current year’s budget.

County officials initially drafted a proposed budget that reduced the property tax rate from 53.9 cents per $100 of assessed value to 52.9 cents. The county scrapped the decrease to pay for funding requests from the Buncombe County and Asheville City school systems and A-B Tech.

The school systems and A-B Tech presented their funding requests to the Board of Commissioners during a budget work session on May 8, initially asking for a total increase of $4.7 million.

In its proposed budget, Buncombe County reduced Asheville City Schools’ requested $1.3 million increase by $680,000 to keep spending in proportion with average daily student attendance, or “membership,” at Buncombe County Schools.

ADJUSTMENTS: A breakdown of the education funding requests for FY 2018-19. Image courtesy of Buncombe County
ADJUSTMENTS: A breakdown of the education funding requests for FY 2018-19. Image courtesy of Buncombe County

By state statute, funding for school systems must be allocated based on average daily membership.

According to presentations delivered by school officials during a county work session on May 8, Asheville City Schools predicts its average daily membership for the 2018-19 school year will be 4,446. Buncombe County Schools predicts an average daily membership of 24,064.

The increased funding requested by the three school systems would help pay for state salary and benefit adjustments, textbooks, utilities, new staff positions to address behavioral health, and programs designed to bolster the graduation rate.

The county has increased general fund spending on public schools by $20 million over the last five years, an increase of about $4 million a year. On May 15, County Manager Mandy Stone cautioned commissioners that, if the rate of education spending growth continues, the board will have to increase the county’s property tax revenues to support it.

Between FY 2014 and FY 2018, the county has increased its spending on salary supplements, which help keep local schoolteacher pay competitive with other counties in the state, by about $6 million.

PIECES OF PIE: County expenditures for fiscal year 2019 will include a small boost for education. In total, the proposed budget is 3.6 percent smaller than last year’s budget. Image courtesy of Buncombe County
PIECES OF PIE: A proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 includes a small boost for education. In total, the proposed budget is 3.6 percent smaller than last year’s budget. Image courtesy of Buncombe County

The general fund accounts for a large portion of Buncombe County’s operating expenditures and includes spending on general government, public safety, economic development, human services and education. The FY 2019 proposed budget also includes about $108 million of spending outside the general fund, a category that includes transportation and fire service districts.

County commissioners still need to decide whether they will approve $2.7 million in additional funding requests by 12 of the 20 fire districts in Buncombe County. Among other things, the increased spending would boost wages for local fire department personnel, who according to a salary study conducted by the N.C. Association of Fire Chiefs receive on average $2,452 to $51,071 less than staff at other fire departments in North Carolina.

Read more about the budget here:

Incentives

Buncombe County wants to issue grants totaling $685,000 to encourage GE Aviation to expand its operations in Asheville.

GE Aviation announced its intention to expand its local operations during a press conference on March 1. According to a press release issued by the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition, the company’s investment would add 131 new positions to GE Aviation’s current local workforce of 425 employees. Those positions would pay a salary that’s 30 percent higher than the living wage for the area.

Buncombe County’s grant contributions would be paid out over three years. The funding is contingent on GE Aviation following through on its commitments to add 131 new positions and invest about $105 million in its Asheville location.

Other business

  • Commissioners will vote on a resolution appointing Heather Hockaday, a Burnsville lawyer, to the role of county attorney. Hockaday would replace former county attorney Bob Deutsch, who resigned from the position on Oct. 31, 2017.
  • As part of its campaign to curb opioid abuse in Buncombe County, the Board of Commissioners will hear a presentation from the county’s Health and Human Services Department about strategies for safe needle disposal, intervention methods and strategies to reduce new cases of Hepatitis C and HIV, which have increased as a result of opioid addiction. A presentation released in advance of the meeting indicates that the county is considering the possibility of creating a syringe exchange program.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5, at 200 College St. in Asheville in room 326. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About David Floyd
David Floyd is the Buncombe County reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press. Email him at dfloyd@mountainx.com.

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