Knowledge always comes at a price — but for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, that price is nearly $1.18 million more than previously expected. At the board’s regular meeting of Tuesday, Dec. 17, in Room 326 at 200 College St., its members will be asked to approve additional funds for the new East Asheville Library.
According to a presentation available before the meeting, the total cost for the project will be roughly $6.98 million, up from a current budget of $5.8 million. Expenses to be added to the library’s tab include $325,000 for fixtures and equipment, nearly $86,000 to install a crosswalk across adjacent Tunnel Road and approximately $70,000 for playground upgrades required as part of the county’s lease agreement with the city of Asheville.
Even with the additional funding, the project would omit a number of items from its original plan, which county staff removed as part of “value engineering.” The library will no longer include sub-grade waterproofing, shaving over $41,000 from the cost, and a large Japanese maple on the site that residents had sought to preserve would be cut down instead of relocated to save over $30,000.
“I feel a little bit helpless,” said Commissioner Joe Belcher, after hearing about the new funding request at a Dec. 3 pre-meeting of the board. He noted that the board had already approved boosting the library’s budget by $1.3 million in November 2018, up from an initial estimate of $4.5 million, and asked County Manager Avril Pinder why that first amount was so far off base.
Pinder said that last year’s $5.8 million estimate, prepared by interim County Manager George Wood, only included construction costs and was in line with the current construction bid of roughly $5.94 million. However, she explained, that estimate did not account for the library’s furniture or site upgrades required by the city lease agreement.
“Why would we not have had a conversation about fixtures, furniture and equipment?” Belcher asked. He received no answer from Pinder, who appeared to shrug in response to his query, or other county staff members.
In other business
With primaries in the 2020 election less than three months away, the board will be asked to approve $372,000 for the purchase of new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant voting machines. The new units would be produced by Elections Systems and Software; Carolina Public Press has reported that the company is attempting to fast-track approval of machines different from those previously inspected by the N.C. State Board of Elections.
Commissioners will also consider establishing a formal policy for appointing members of county boards and commissions. The new rules would enact a term limit of two full consecutive terms for service on any one board and add language intended to prevent nepotism by board members.
The one presentation on the board’s agenda recognizes Jerry VeHaun for his 47 years of service with the county. Buncombe’s longtime emergency services director, who has also served as the mayor of Woodfin since 2003, plans to retire on Tuesday, Dec. 31.
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains three items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Two of those items are approvals of previous meeting minutes: the single remaining item is a contract for over $711,000 in repairs to Hall Fletcher Elementary School in West Asheville. The work, which would be conducted by PC Construction Company of South Burlington, Vt., includes a restroom renovation for ADA compliance and a roof replacement.
The commission will hold a pre-meeting at 1 p.m. (moved from the usual 3 p.m. time slot) in the same location. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link.