County to set groundwork for $30 million in bonds at Aug. 7 meeting

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The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners may have passed its budget less than two months ago, but new money moves for the future are already in the works. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, the commissioners will consider a resolution that would allow the county to issue up to $30 million in limited obligation bonds for fiscal year 2019, which would fund numerous improvements for the county’s schools and other facilities.

As explained by Interim County Manager George Wood in an Aug. 1 memo to the board, the resolution does not actually commit the county to issuing those bonds. Instead, it sets the stage for the county to reimburse itself through bonds should it initially finance planned construction projects with operating funds. According to Internal Revenue Service regulations, Wood wrote, a bond resolution must precede spending money on projects that might later be refinanced using bonds.

Those improvements include nearly $13.8 million in previously approved projects for Buncombe County Schools, such as a $2.5 million connector between the main building and gym at North Buncombe Middle School and a $2.3 million stage at Avery’s Creek Elementary School. An additional $8 million in unspecified school project funding would also get the go-ahead.

Beyond school funding, the resolution lists over $9.3 million for miscellaneous county projects. Highlights include $4.5 million for a new library in East Asheville, $2.75 million for exterior repairs to the Buncombe County Detention Center and $975,000 for maintenance on the county’s Administration Building at 200 College St.

Life and taxes

Another pool of money under consideration comes from the county’s settlement with Guardian Life Insurance Co. over whole-life insurance policies allegedly purchased by former County Manager Wanda Greene using misappropriated taxpayer funds. Green spent over $2.3 million on Guardian products, for which the settlement reimburses the county over $2 million.

A budget amendment under consideration at the Aug. 7 meeting would move that cash into a budgetary contingency expense account. The money could then be used as necessary for any unexpected overruns in other county spending.

While the county has filed a civil suit to recover additional money from Greene’s alleged embezzlement, its receipts from taxpayers are generally running without incident. A report from Jennifer Pike, the county’s tax collector, notes that only $269,851.77 of the county’s over $195.6 million in levied taxes for 2017 — just 0.14 percent of the total — remain uncollected.

The commissioners will consider motions to approve Pike’s report and authorize her to begin collecting property taxes for tax year 2018. Additionally, they will consider removing a little less than $52,000 in unpaid but “uncollectable” taxes, dating back to tax year 2008, from the county’s rolls.

In other business

The meeting will also see the board take its next step in the search for Greene’s and Mandy Stone’s permanent successor. Stone served as county manager for almost exactly one year after Greene’s retirement, before abruptly retiring herself on July 1. The agenda includes a motion to select final candidates for an executive search firm, which Wood recommended the county hire to advise on its manager hiring process. At publication time, the agenda included no details about the search firms under consideration.

In another item tied to the Greene fallout, the commissioners will move to call a public hearing on amendments to the county’s personnel ordinance, tentatively scheduled for the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21. Amendments under consideration include adding the finance director (a position held by Tim Flora until his resignation in May) to the list of employees covered by the ordinance, eliminating automatic salary adjustments, changing disciplinary procedures for “egregious” unsatisfactory performance and creating additional procedures for terminating the county’s internal auditor (currently Terri Orange).

A public hearing at the Aug. 7 meeting will consider a zoning change for 22 acres of land off of 9 Entrekin Lane, located along the county’s southern border. The property’s zoning would shift from unzoned and Employment to Residential District, which would allow applicant Nathan Best to expand an existing manufactured home park. The county’s Planning Board previously approved the change by a unanimous vote in June.

The Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, in the third-floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. The board will also hold a special work session on benefits and pay at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 14, in the first-floor conference room at 200 College St. See the full agenda here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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