County approves A-B Tech funding plan in split vote

BRICK BY BRICK: In a 4-3 vote, Buncombe County commissioners approved a plan that will help Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College cover $25 million in deferred maintenance on college buildings. Photo courtesy of of A-B Tech

In the eyes of college President Dennis King, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College is wonderful — but it hasn’t yet achieved greatness.

If proceeds from a 2011 quarter-cent sales tax increase — sold to voters as dedicated to improving the college — had flowed to A-B Tech construction projects from the beginning, King suggested at the Feb. 19 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, the institution would be well on the way to “the next level.” Instead, the college faces a $25 million maintenance backlog on its campuses.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve a plan that dedicates $3.13 million in Article 46 tax revenues in fiscal year 2020 for capital expenses at the college. The money would keep coming in each of the next seven years, increasing 5.5 percent annually to account for anticipated increases in construction costs. The county would also cap transfers from Article 46 tax revenue to the general fund at $5 million and would limit the use of that money to operations at A-B Tech.

Commissioners added a provision to create a new joint subcommittee to ensure coordination between A-B Tech trustees and the county board on capital spending priorities at A-B Tech.

Broken promises

An investigation by the Citizen Times found that almost $16 million of the money produced by the Article 46 sales tax has been transferred to the county’s general fund. That includes about $400,000 in salaries for county officials — including former managers Wanda Greene and Jon Creighton.

According to commission Chair Brownie Newman, the plan approved on Feb. 19 will leave A-B Tech roughly $15 million short of the funding promised at the time of the referendum.

“There have been things that have been mishandled with these funds,” Newman said, referencing money that had been spent on salaries. He also cited a $15 million campus parking facility as one example of a project the county pushed despite A-B Tech’s not seeing it as a priority. The garage, he said, is vacant for significant stretches of time.

“I would be supportive of not only assuring that there’s a plan to invest the $130 million in A-B Tech capital,” Newman said. “I think there should be a plan to invest more than that.”

Speaking after the vote, trustee Matt Kern said he was disappointed.

The measure doesn’t accomplish the original intent of the referendum, which was to spend the tax revenue only on A-B Tech capital projects, Kern said.

“In the next eight years, this proposal has $40 million for A-B Tech operations,” Kern said. “That’s $40 million that could have gone for capital projects. It’s disappointing that [commissioners] weren’t willing to look at this further and see that that alone is a mistake.”

Time up

Commissioners Newman, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Amanda Edwards voted against the plan, saying they wanted more time to consider.

“This is just such an important relationship,” Beach-Ferrara said. “It’s such a large amount of money, so I continue to think that this process would be best served by methodically moving forward.”

Edwards said interim County Manager George Wood had done a good job putting together an initial proposal but noted that he won’t be seeing this plan through to fruition.

Wood’s tenure as interim manager ends on March 4. Avril Pinder, selected earlier this month by commissioners, will take over after his departure. “She will be the one working with us so closely to ensure we really are following it,” Edwards said.

Commissioner Mike Fryar, who also sits on the college’s board of trustees, urged his colleagues to approve the plan. “I want to vote on it tonight, I want it passed tonight, and I want it settled down so we can get the things done over there,” Fryar said.

Siding with Republicans, Commissioner Al Whitesides, a Democrat, said he’s ready to see the issue resolved. He made creation of the joint subcommittee a requirement of his vote in support of the measure.

“We need them to sit at the table,” Whitesides said. “And more important than that, they’re the ones that need to tell us when they need a building.”

Next steps

Laying the groundwork for the Board of Commissioners’ vote on Feb. 19, the college’s board of trustees considered the funding plan on Feb. 7. At that meeting, the trustees added a provision requiring that any money generated above expenditures must flow into the Article 46 fund balance, which would have to be spent on capital projects at the college.

College trustees then voted 9-4 in favor of the plan.

Since commissioners added an amendment to create the joint subcommittee on the use of capital funding, the proposal will now return to the board of trustees for another round of consideration.

A-B Tech will have input on the structure of the committee, which Newman said he envisioned as similar to the county’s five-member school capital fund commission.

“The trustees are still going to be able to have their say-so,” said Mary Ann Rice, chair of the Board of Trustees. Like Kern, she voted against the plan on Feb. 7.

Once the plan has been finalized, the boards will ask local representatives to the N.C. General Assembly to introduce a law to bind the agreement for eight years.

In his remarks to commissioners, King said he hopes to see more updates like A-B Tech’s new Allied Health Building, which involved tearing down an inadequate building and replacing it with a “beautiful,” “state-of-the-art” facility.

“I’m satisfied that the maintenance is one of our top priorities,” he said. “The need for a new building will come, and it will come soon if you want to do what I just said, which is take us from good to great.”

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About David Floyd
David Floyd was a reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press.

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10 thoughts on “County approves A-B Tech funding plan in split vote

  1. bsummers

    But still nothing on the promise to look at delivering water and sewer to a part of Buncombe County currently without those services? Just before the last election, a commitment was made, but there has been no follow-through. Some might see this as a transparent effort to help the re-election chances of a current Commissioner. But that would suck, right?

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    challenge them in person at their next meeting! Brownie Newman is a slithering snake who needs to resign now.

    • Lulz

      No one will challenge them because for the most part, they benefit from a corrupt and criminalized government. Government now should be viewed as an entity that employs criminals , the insane, and the lowlifes that’ use white collar credentials to steal.

  3. Tom

    Not impressed with the wasteful use of space and excessive design in the pretty Allied Health Building that King uses as an example of what it takes to move his college from “good to great”. Is this highly educated college president really trying to peddle the notion that a lack of new buildings is the definitive difference between “good” colleges and “great” colleges? Sounds more “hustle” than “highly educated” and diminishes the hard work and expertise of the teachers and staff beneath him. Does college administration really feel entitled to double-dip tax payer dollars at the expense of other more pressing citizenry needs by making a grab for all the unexpectedly large sales tax revenue and all of the county contribution it was receiving prior to the implementation of the tax? Sounds unrealistic and downright greedy. The county should absolutely use the A-B Tech tax revenue to offset any and all contributions to the college. A subcommittee to monitor A-B Tech needs and expenditures, especially for new buildings, is definitely in order. If not, kill the tax, return to the previous method of fund allocation, and let A-B Tech pursue bonds to transparently detail its intentions for using taxpayer money prior to receiving it. It also would make sense for commissioners Frye and Edwards to recuse themselves from taking part in this issue to avoid conflict of interest and impartiality since one serves on the college’s board of trustees and the other is a full time college employee who is responsible for fund raising and reports directly to King.

    • John

      We’ve recently looked at the county’s. Let’s see full disclosure of A-B Tech’s employee salaries, benefits, and perks. Including its history of raises and monetary and nonmonetary bonuses. At least those of its executive leadership team, including King and Edwards. Don’t forget anything that board members might receive.

  4. Buttercup

    “King said he hopes to see more updates like A-B Tech’s new Allied Health Building, which involved tearing down an inadequate building and replacing it with a “beautiful,” “state-of-the-art” facility.”

    Dude, it sometimes seems like A-B Tech senior administration lives more and more in its own delusional world and tries to get everyone to conform to it.

    The old allied health building wasn’t gonna be torn down originally. It was gonna be refurbished and the engineering programs were gonna move in there. It was torn down when the college thought that it was gonna get a big new plush engineering arts and sciences building out of the county. Plans were discussed. But the building wasn’t approved by the county.

  5. Remember

    While many busy pointing out which public leaders and organizations are trustworthy and corrupt, let’s not forget that…

    Not so long before the A-B Tech sales tax and Greene scandals, A-B Tech, itself, was responsible for generating plenty of controversary and mistrust in the community, including about the expenditure of the A-B Tech sales tax money. See links below.

    Several of those who held positions of power at A-B Tech under Dunn remain in power, including members of the board of trustees and president King. And King’s tenure in office is limited.

    So, YES, county officials definitely need to mandate a comprehensive and transparent needs assessment, oversight, and accountability plan for all taxpayer money given to A-B Tech. A plan subject to public scrutiny.

    Such a plan should have been in place a long time ago for the A-B Tech sales tax money and for all funding the college receives from the county and not just for capital projects but for all purposes.

    “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

    https://mountainx.com/blogwire/ac-t_a-b_tech_partnership_faltered_early/

    http://ashvegas.com/is-asheville-community-college-leader-hank-dunn-on-the-way-out

    http://www.ashevilledailyplanet.com/news/3027-a-b-tech-roundup-building-work-halted

    http://www.ashevilledailyplanet.com/news/2985-a-b-tech-wrangling-followed-by-apologies

    https://www.abtech.edu/content/board-meeting-minutes/april-3-2013-special-called-meeting

  6. Grateful

    A-B Tech has complained about the county building it an unwanted parking garage and conference center.

    Really?????

    So then hand over both structures to the county to use and tonmake money off of. Money that might help to cover the big chunk of taxpayer dollars that the college sucks up annually from the county.

    The parking deck was built at a time when enrollment was much higher at the college than now and lack of parking was a constant complaint. It was meant to support the conference center. It was meant to support the anticipated growth in enrollment that college administration projected that hasn’t occurred under King. A-B Tech law enforcement cars take up a large number spaces on the ground floor where they are housed. Faculty and staff parking takes up several other spaces on the ground floor, leaving very few of these spaces for students and visitors. Members of college administration have regularly used the garage for their own parking.

    The parking deck supports the conference center that A-B Tech regularly uses for various purposes, including its own and as rental space to make money. It sold the right to Mission Health Care to have the Mission name added to the conference center’s name. Use of the space is so tightly controlled that faculty have had trouble accessing it for use. At the time the conference center was built, the college’s need for auditorium and large scale meeting space was outpacing the space that the college had. Former college President Dunn was reputed to have wanted a conference center, if only as a way to draw in additional revenue. He reportedly wanted it in the Allied Health Building but that created problems with the county.

  7. Robin

    Here’s how I read this: I’m sorry I stole your money. I have needs for that money, so let’s negotiate on how much of it you want back.

    I voted against the tax increase years ago based on this very real concern. Fast forward to now, and the County Commission is doing exactly what they said wouldn’t happen. I can’t wait for the next election so I can vote the crooked and slimy Brownie Newman out of office. Newman said, “I’m not bound by previous Board decisions” What about voters Brownie? Are you bound by voters? How about a moral compass to represent all of Buncombe County? I’m glad you got rich on green energy while pushing the City, and then the County, to “go green”; all while letting Wanda Green and Cathy Ball build their empires, but to screw over Buncombe County voters so you could pay off Wanda’s cronies is unforgivable.

  8. Hank

    No wonder A-B Tech took the county sales tax deal and settled it when it did. What timing.

    Under Gov Cooper’s recent proposal for providing funding to state schools, colleges, and universities, A-B Tech will now be able to triple dip funding from taxpayer dollars. It is set up to receive an appropriation from the county as it was prior the A-B Tech sales tax, money from the sales tax with a chunk toward maintenance and capital improvements, and very possibly another lump (7 million) from Cooper’s proposal.

    https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2019/03/08/asheville-area-schools-colleges-appalachian-would-get-95-m-under-governor-roy-cooper-budget/3090897002/

    Did angelic A-B Tech know about Cooper’s proposal while it was hustling for county money over the past couple of weeks?

    Would recent public support for the A-B Tech sales tax been less if taxpayers had known that the college might be getting a healthy chunk of state dollars for some of the same stuff paid through local taxes?

    A-B Tech deserves reasonable support.

    But it needs to be watched for excess given history.

    The push to try to get the sales tax passed during an election cycle when fewer would be out to vote was purposeful by the college. It was careful political strategy to get it passed and wasn’t about getting wide-scale endorsement from taxpayers at large. The choice to pursue a sales tax as opposed to a bond was deliberate to get access to as much unfettered money as possible. It wasn’t done out of concern for the community. So claims about how concerned the college is about the community and attempts to play victim ring hallow. Don’t let the county’s decision to use the tax money for other purposes as the county was technically allowed to do by law and the Wanda Greene screw-ups fool you into thinking that A-B Tech is run by a bunch of martyrs who place community interest over current college administrator interests.

    Several familiar with college administration history since Bailey left know that “all that glitters is not gold”… unless perhaps fool’s gold is included.

    And where was the A-B Tech employee voice on the issue? Many are county taxpayers. Their silence is deafening. It is consistent with the bad experiences coming out of there with administration under King and Stewart especially.

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