A 10-month review, designed to address citizen complaints and equity concerns about Buncombe County’s approach to property assessment, is scheduled to conclude at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, July 19. The eight-member ad hoc reappraisal committee was called into action by Chair Brownie Newman back in September after he viewed a presentation by urban planner Joe Minicozzi, founder of Asheville-based urban planning firm Urban3, outlining what Minicozzi identified as inequities in valuation between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods.
At the meeting, the committee will present its recommendations, which include differentiating how short-term rentals and investment properties are considered when assessed, reducing the percentage of homes with incorrect assessment data, increasing homeowner compliance with reporting improvements and expanding community education around the appraisal and appeals processes.
Attached to the board’s agenda is a compilation of supporting materials from the committee’s work. Included are the complete responses to a community survey, administered by the county between December and February, to collect opinions on the assessment process. Also featured are a short list of staff recommendations from county tax assessor Keith Miller and a report from Syneva Economics addressing questions of equity.
The latter’s report, commissioned by the county for $27,000, has become a source of contention. Syneva’s general finding that “sales ratios do not indicate patterns of assessment inequity” has been flatly disputed by Urban3; the Asheville firm’s presentation, shows the county aligned with a national trend of overassessing lower-value properties compared with higher-value homes, thus burdening poorer homeowners with disproportionately larger tax bills.
In other news
Commissioners will hear an update and a request from the Community Reparations Commission, which the county oversees together with the city of Asheville. Reparations commission members have asked that the county Board of Commissioners “include a line item in their budget for reparations for Black people in Buncombe County as a percentage of the overall budget in perpetuity.”
The request does not recommend a specific percentage of the county’s budget to be committed in this way. Buncombe’s roughly $398 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year, approved unanimously by the board June 21, includes $2 million toward reparations, or about half a percent of the total; Asheville’s $158.5 million general fund budget allots $500,000 toward reparations, or about a third of a percent.
A budget amendment will be considered to create an enterprise fund for the Sherriff’s Office Real-Time Intelligence Center. The move would allow private businesses to pay to link their camera systems with those of the Sheriff’s Office. A county webpage for the program says connecting cameras to the center “allows our deputies to have more information on situation and gives them an idea of what they are getting into, keeping you and our deputies safe.”
And commissioners will review a budget request of nearly $622,000 from the county’s Sustainability Office to address higher than expected costs for solar energy projects. A staff report available before the meeting pinned the higher prices on raw materials, shipping and shutdowns of solar panel manufacturing plants. Rebates from Duke Energy are expected to reimburse the increased costs upon completion of the projects.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 12 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. That agenda includes the following highlights:
- An approval for Buncombe County Schools to apply for $1.7 million from the N.C. Education Lottery’s Public School Building Capital Fund. The funds would be used to upgrade security hardware on perimeter doors at multiple schools.
- A budget amendment to approve an $18,000 award for grant writing assistance from the Dogwood Health Trust. The funds will provide support for the county’s Justice Services Department to apply for a federal grant.
- The Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board is requesting $43,000 for a conservation easement project in Sandy Mush. The funds would cover transaction costs for an approximately 139-acre easement at the Sandy Mush Creek/Covington Family Farm, which is adjacent to conserved lands and contains 1.3 miles of streams and headwater tributaries.
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 regular 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.