New county fund to support individuals, businesses during COVID-19

Asheville Chamber of Commerce survey results
SURVEY SAYS: According to a poll of over 500 WNC businesses conducted by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, nearly a third have closed due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

“One Buncombe” has been the rallying cry for County Manager Avril Pinder since she took the reins of Buncombe County government last year. The phrase is now finding new life as the name of a “rapid relief fund,” the creation of which was unanimously approved by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at a March 24 special meeting, to help individuals and locally owned small businesses withstand the economic fallout of COVID-19.

As explained by Tim Love, the county’s director of intergovernmental relations, One Buncombe will pool funding from local governments, businesses, foundations and individuals under the Buncombe County Service Foundation, a nonprofit established by the county that currently administers many of its community partnership grants. A seven-member board of directors with representatives from the government, business, banking and philanthropic communities would determine how to allocate the money.

For individuals who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, Love said, the fund could pay for “life-essential needs” such as utilities and mortgages. He clarified that money would be given directly to service providers and not as cash to those without work.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees could receive low-interest loans of up to $10,000 to help them sustain operations until they could reopen or get additional support from the federal government. According to a recent survey of over 500 Western North Carolina businesses by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Love noted, over 32% of respondents said they had closed their operations, while more than 26% said they had furloughed employees.

“We know there are lots of programs to support small businesses,” Love said. “The challenge we face here is, will these small businesses still be around in time when disaster relief funding is made available to them through the [federal Small Business Administration] and other programs?”

While the commissioners generally supported the proposed fund, Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioner Al Whitesides both suggested that One Buncombe explore small-business micro-grants in addition to loans. Many sole proprietor or two-person businesses such as barbershops, they said, were loath to take on additional debt in an economic crisis and could benefit from as little as $1,000 to cover rent during an extended closure.

The commissioners set a public hearing for Tuesday, April 7, to consider a $200,000 county allocation for One Buncombe. The Asheville City Council, which also met on March 24, will consider its own $100,000 allocation on Tuesday, April 14. Love said individuals and private groups will be able to donate soon through onebuncombe.org; the website was not available as of press time.

In other news

In line with similar moves by Asheville City Council, the Board of Commissioners changed bylaws regarding in-person attendance and public comment through the duration of Buncombe’s local state of emergency. If necessary, the board will now be able to hold meetings entirely by conference call; Michael Frue, the county’s senior staff attorney, proposed the use of Zoom teleconferencing software.

Members of the public would be able to submit written comment of up to 350 words or voice comment of up to three minutes electronically until 5 p.m. the day before a commission meeting. Newman said up to an hour of those comments would subsequently be read into the record during the meeting itself.

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.