On Tuesday, Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene, in presenting the annual budget to the Board of Commissioners, said the county’s economy has some problems, though is still better than most — and that county government could need to take $6.9 million out of reserves to make ends meet in the coming fiscal year.
“While we have no idea today how we’re going to find that [money], we’ll start working that in a matter of days, so we know where we can cover our costs to save this $6.9 million,” Greene said, later adding that possibilities included cutting vacant positions, slowing down hiring of new employees or even a full hiring freeze.
The county’s proposed $316.8 million budget for the next fiscal year keeps the county’s property-tax rate — 52.5 cents per $100 — the same. Greene said that the budget’s been hit by rising costs in energy, food and fuel — and that her information indicates that the long-booming local housing market was also facing problems.
““We consistently hear that the economy is not good, that people are hurting — and I absolutely believe that to be the truth,” Greene told the board. “We also hear that it’s the unknown that scares people. When I fill up my car, I know what scares me — $4 a gallon is very frightening. Rising prices at the pump are eating into our funds.”
Additionally, she said, building permits are down by 200 from last year.
Chairman Nathan Ramsey broke in at that bit of news.
“But compared to many places, we’re in very good shape as far as the building permits,” he noted.
“We are,” Greene replied. “The value has not dropped as much as the number of permits. Our revenues from real-estate transfers have fallen a little over 10 percent. Real estate folks say that houses are staying on the market a lot longer — and the more expensive the house, the longer it stays. There’s still a market for houses under $300,000 to $400,000.”
Additionally, she said, foreclosures are up and unemployment has gone from 3.6 percent last year to 4.3 percent now.
“The chairman’s right, we’re not in as bad a situation as some other places, but we’re taking this seriously,” she said.
The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed county budget on June 3.
— David Forbes, staff writer