Need grows, funding shrinks for Buncombe aging services

Buncombe County seal

Support for programs in Buncombe County that serve older adults — one of the groups most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19 — is set to decrease by more than $78,000 from the current fiscal year, according to a new budget proposed by the county’s Health and Human Services department. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is slated to vote on the spending plan at a 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, June 2.

The recommended cut comes despite a dramatic year-over-year increase in funding requests from area service providers. For fiscal year 2019-2020, those requests totaled just over $3.12 million. This year, providers requested more than $4.59 million, an increase of nearly a third.

Buncombe’s funding for aging services comes from a federal block grant and a separate county government allocation. Both sources are projected to be less in the next fiscal year, with direct county support making up the bulk of the loss at over $70,000.

In a staff report available before the meeting, county HHS director Stoney Blevins noted that over $246,000 of the aging services budget would be held back from providers that are not currently operating due to COVID-19, giving the county an emergency reserve to respond to needs emerging from the pandemic. He said that money would be released if those providers resume normal service.

In other news

Commissioners will also vote on a new rate agreement with the city of Asheville regarding paratransit service, which the county provides for the city through its Mountain Mobility system. In a staff report available before the meeting, county planner Matt Cable noted that the agreement is projected to increase Buncombe’s subsidy of the service by roughly $6,700.

Although no related documents were linked to the June 2 meeting agenda as of press time, the board will hear County Manager Avril Pinder’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2020-21. At a May 21 special meeting, the most recent public discussion of the budget, the county’s general fund expenditures were projected at just over $335.72 million, a just over 1% decline from the amended 2019-20 total of nearly $339.49 million.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • A tax collection report noting the county’s receipts through April 30. According to tax collector Jennifer Pike, Buncombe has so far collected a little over 99% of all taxes owed for fiscal year 2019-20, down from about 99.5% at the same point last fiscal year, with the reduction attributed to COVID-19 impacts.
  • A budget amendment to recognize $250,000 in greater-than-anticipated revenue from the Register of Deeds excise stamp tax. The county must remit 49% of those revenues to the state.
  • A budget amendment to accept a $6,500 grant from the State Library of North Carolina to the Buncombe County Public Libraries. The money, part of the Library Services Technology Act Grant, will help the local library system stock up on personal protective equipment and supplies needed to reopen its facilities to the public.

The commission will hold a pre-meeting at 3 p.m. to review its regular meeting agenda and discuss the county’s COVID-19 response.The full meeting agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

Due to COVID-19, no public attendance will be allowed at the board’s 200 College St. meeting location. The meetings will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Public comment (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, June 1, via email at comment@buncombecounty.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a 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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