A Buncombe County program launched in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to support local residents and businesses may soon receive an extra boost. At its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a new $500,000 allocation to the One Buncombe Fund.
The board had signaled its intent to make the allocation Aug. 31 as part of $9.3 million in grants from Buncombe’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, but a public hearing and additional vote are necessary under state law because the One Buncombe Fund is classified as economic development spending. To date, the county has contributed $350,000 to the fund, with an additional $1.33 million coming from the city of Asheville and other community partners.
While the initial round of One Buncombe money was split between emergency assistance for individuals and low-interest loans to small businesses, the new $500,000 would go entirely toward grants of up to $5,000 for business owners. As with the fund’s previous business-focused effort, the program would be managed by Asheville-based nonprofit Mountain BizWorks.
According to a presentation available before the meeting, 60% of local small businesses were below pre-pandemic revenue levels as of the end of June, with 25% of those businesses calling themselves “financially challenged.” Difficulties are particularly acute among businesses with five or fewer employees, as well as firms owned by people of color or based in rural areas.
Should the funding be approved, grant applications would open on Friday, Oct. 1, and close on Sunday, Oct. 31. More information is available through Mountain BizWorks at avl.mx/ago.
Mask mandate up for extension
Commissioners will also consider an extension to the COVID-19 state of emergency and indoor mask mandate they instituted Aug. 18. Without additional action from the board, that language will expire Thursday, Sept. 30.
Although no documents were linked to the face-covering agenda item as of press time, Buncombe’s COVID-19 metrics remain at levels similar to those seen last month. The county — as well as the entire state of North Carolina — is experiencing high levels of community coronavirus transmission, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defined as more than 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains two items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. The resolutions include two budget amendments: the first accepting a $30,000 grant from Vaya Health to prevent children from entering the foster care system and the second accepting over $108,000 from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to fund medication-assisted treatment of opioid users at the Buncombe County Detention Facility.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 metrics, hear an update on the county landfill gas to energy program and consider presentations from 50 applicants for federal American Rescue Plan Act funding (separate from the One Buncombe Fund monies). The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.