County poised to approve budget, tax increase

Buncombe County property owners will see a 2.55-cent property tax increase next year if the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approves the fiscal year 2024-25 budget at its Tuesday, June 18 meeting.

If passed, the new rate — 52.35 cents per $100 of value — would mean the owner of a home valued at $400,000 will pay $2,094 in taxes to the county, $102 more than last year. (Owners of property located in municipalities or various other special districts such as fire districts or Asheville City Schools will pay more.)

The proposed $441.9 million general fund budget amounts to a $5.1 million spending increase over this year and includes more than $125 million going toward the county’s largest expenditure, education.

Of that, Buncombe County Schools is slated to get a $3.4 million increase over this year’s budget, far less than the $13.5 million that BCS Superintendent Rob Jackson requested. The Buncombe County Association of Educators recently held a rally asking for an increased allocation from the county, which would likely require a larger tax increase.

Asheville City Schools is set to receive a $600,000 increase, less than the $3.8 million bump Superintendent Maggie Fehrman requested.

The proposed county budget includes 30 new positions over the course of the year, including 13 in public safety, eight of them paramedics once new EMS bases open.

If approved, the proposed budget also includes a 4.89% cost-of-living raise for all county employees.

County to hire audit director

Commissioners are set to approve the hiring of a new internal audit director after the position has sat empty for nearly a year. If approved, Robb Hartman will fill the role, replacing former director Dan Keister, who left in July 2023.

According to a Feb. 15 Asheville Citizen-Times story, the hiring of Keister at the beginning of 2022 was part of the county’s efforts to build a robust oversight department to improve accountability, transparency and rebuild the public’s trust after the Wanda Greene scandal rocked the organization in the late 2010s.

Greene, who was the county’s manager for 20 years, pleaded guilty in 2019 to two counts of federal programs fraud, one count of making and subscribing a false tax return and one count of receiving kickbacks and bribes. She was sentenced to seven years in prison but was released in January 2022.

Between the middle of 2022 and October 2023, all three of the department’s workers left, according to the Citizen-Times. There is one internal auditor listed on the county’s positions and pay dashboard as of June 14.

According to county documents, after Keister’s departure, third-party consultant Raftelis advertised the audit director position in August 2023, but that search “did not result in a successful offer of employment.”

Raftelis advertised the position a second time on March 21, resulting in five qualified applicants pursuing the job.

Hartman, who has previously served as a senior auditor at the University of North Florida and audit manager at the Colorado State University system, is scheduled to start Monday, July 15, if approved. He is slated to make $120,000 annually.

Consent agenda

The consent agenda for the meeting contains four items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Included for review are minutes from two previous meetings and a resolution approving a fireworks display on July 4 at the Lutheridge Conference Center and Camp on Hendersonville Road.

The fourth item is an annual plan for the county’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. The council must submit a plan, including a risks, needs and strengths summary report, data on racial and ethnic disparities of juveniles in the justice system and a summary of the council’s funding decisions to the state by June 30 every year.

The full agenda and supporting documents for the meeting can be found at this link. There will be a briefing meeting before the regular meeting at 3 p.m. The agenda was not posted as of press time.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St., Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and the regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and be available via YouTube.



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