Nonprofits present budget requests, fire chiefs discuss issues with Buncombe County Commissioners

The Buncombe County Fire Chiefs Association met with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to discuss both broad, across-the-county news and issues specific to each station. Photo by Hayley Benton

On Tuesday, April 21, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners held two workshops: one to hear nonprofit funding requests and the other to facilitate discussion with the Buncombe County Fire Chiefs Association.

The first of the two meetings began at noon, where staff from 45 nonprofits packed into the crowded third floor commission chambers, waiting patiently for the chance to present.

Each nonprofit had three minutes to speak about the organization, its funding needs and which project(s) the county’s money would help fund. The presenters received an extra two minutes per additional project.

Combined, the list of nonprofit requests would cost the county $4.2 million if approved as-is. But, last year, 48 nonprofits requested $6.6 million in funds from Buncombe County and received only $2.3 million — just more than one-third of the money requested and less than 1 percent of the county’s $368 million operating budget as a whole.

If the county takes the one-third route again this year, the organizations would receive around $1.4 million in funding, but first the commissioners will discuss the options with County Manager Wanda Greene. A proposed budget plan will then be presented by Greene at the May 19 meeting, and the budget will come to a vote on June 16.

Asking for the biggest chunk of the budget is the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, the Asheville Area Chamber, the Pack Square Cultural Partnership, Pisgah Legal Services and Homeward Bound of WNC.

These five groups make up about half ($2.2 million) of the $4.2 million in budget requests. Click here for a more detailed summary of these five organizations’ funding needs. For the full list of organizations, scroll to the bottom of this story.

Following the nonprofit presentations, the commissioners met with the Buncombe County Fire Chiefs Association to discuss the various issues from fire departments across the county.

The chiefs discussed the problem with volunteering. Fire stations need volunteer firefighters and get plenty of applications, but usually, after realizing the tremendous amount of time and effort it is to begin volunteering, most applicants drop out of the training process.

Chief Randy Ratcliff of the West Buncombe Fire Department said he has 14 full-time staff members and 15 part-time slots with four vacancies — and the department struggles to retain reliable volunteers.

“Out of 20 applications, we usually only see two or three dedicate themselves to volunteering after the interview process alone,” Ratcliff said.

Fire Chief Ted Godleski of the Leicester Fire Department said he volunteered with his department for 30 out of the 32 years he’s worked there. He’s heard some volunteers asking, “‘Is there a possibility of me getting hired?’ That’s the mindset of volunteers nowadays,” he said.

Ratcliff added, “When I first joined, it wasn’t what you got out of it; It was what you gave back to your community.”

The chiefs all agreed, however, that the alliance of the Buncombe County Fire Chiefs Association is “phenomenal” in that it brings together all the departments — everyone looks out for each other. There used to be a time “when you wouldn’t see a city fire truck sitting at a county station,” said one of the chiefs. “Now that we have this group in place, we’ve been rapidly integrating the teams. We work together all the time.”

County Chair David Gantt replied, “Well, that’s music to our ears. We love hearing that.”

Another major concern of the association is the possible drastic funding cut from a proposed North Carolina sales tax bill. The bill would redistribute millions of dollars from Buncombe to counties with smaller budgets, closing the monetary gap across the counties. Many of the chiefs said that the impact of the bill, if it should pass, would be “catastrophic” to departments in Buncombe County. Several city and county governments across the state plan to take a stance against this bill, including Buncombe commissioners (who will vote on the issue at their May 5 meeting).

Conversation turned to the cost of living in the county — some firefighters must live far outside their districts, which could also be a factor in the county’s lack of volunteers. Gantt admitted that he knows the cost of living and housing in the area weighs heavily on citizens. “There’s just such a gap between housing and salary because everybody wants to live here,” Gantt said. “It’s a big problem, and we’re aware of it.”

But even though the county is making efforts to fix the inequity between cost of housing and wage, implementing small solutions little-by-little is “like spitting in the ocean,” he continued.

Among many other topics, the Black Mountain/Ridgecrest fire from earlier this month came up: “If that fire had happened in any other county, it would have been catastrophic,” said Reems Creek Fire Chief Jeff Justice. “And I’m not saying anything bad about the other counties, but they just don’t have the resources [that Buncombe has]. People would have been talking about it for years to come.”

Discussion circled around the room until each chief got to address the issues at each department, and then the meeting adjourned.

Check out the full list of nonprofit budget requests here:

Organization Organization Description Where will funding go? $ Requested
Senior Care Fellowship Day care facility for seniors providing pick-up,
drop-off, activities & hot home-cooked meals
General support $1,500
Folk Heritage Committee Dedicated to preserving & presenting the musical
heritage of the Southern Appalachians
Shindig on the Green festival $4,275
The Environmental Quality Institute Environmental research laboratory analyzing chemical
& biological makeup of local streams for public use
Volunteer Water Information Network $9,660
Historic Resources Commission Preserves & protects cultural & architectural
resources of Asheville and Buncombe County
Operations & Survey $10,000
Asheville Community Theatre Provides entertainment
through community theatre arts
Accessibility & Immersion in the Arts $15,000
Just Economics Advocate & organizer for
just, sustainable economy
Poverty Remediation Support $15,000
Lenoir-Rhyne University Co-educational liberal arts university Asheville Wordfest 2016 $15,000
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Sustains agriculture & forestry,
protects the environment,
maintains viable communities
Expanded Food & Nutritional
Education Program
Black Mountain College
Museum + Arts Center
Exhibition space & resource center
dedicated to exploring
the history & legacy of this community
2016 {Re}HAPPENING festival $20,000
Child Abuse Prevention Services Works to reduce & prevent child abuse,
strengthen families & through prevention,
education & counseling
Child Abuse Prevention & Treatment $20,000
WNC Communities Works to improve the quality of life for rural
communities & enhance the agriculture economy
General program & work support $20,000
The Mediation Center Helps families find workable solutions
& supports children so they can
maintain relationships with both parents
Family Visitation Program $24,000
Asheville Downtown Association Promotes & supports quality economic, cultural
& residential development in downtown Asheville
Event support 2015/2016 $25,000
Asheville Lions Eye Clinic Provides eye care/vision tests to school-age children Eye care $25,000
Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry Provide vital services for neighbors in need,
assist those experiencing hardship
Community Service Navigators program $25,000
Appalachian Sustainable
Agriculture Project
Helps local farms thrive, links farmers to
supporters & builds healthy communities
through connections to local food
Building demand for Appalachian Grown $35,000
The Arc of Buncombe County Serves people with intellectual
& developmental disabilities
General support $35,000
The YMI Cultural Center Promotes interculturalism & the
preservation of cultural identity
General support $40,000
Asheville Area Arts Council Gives artists a collective voice by collaborating
& fostering creativity in the community.
Re-granting $45,000
Asheville GreenWorks Urban environmental conservation organization
working to enhance the community
through education & volunteer-based programs
Buncombe County Clean & Green $50,000
Eagle Market Street Development Helps people, property &
businesses achieve economic & social justice
Block-by-Block Industries $50,000
Eblen Charities Helps thousands of families
with medical & emergency assistance
Graduation initiative $50,000
Green Opportunities Helps youth & adults living in
poverty get & keep jobs &
improves community & environmental health
Kitchen Ready program $50,000
MANNA FoodBank Educates & unites people in the work
of ending hunger in WNC
Food & Nutrition Program (FNS) outreach $20,000
Food Distribution $30,000
Mount Zion
Community Development
Christian ministry aiming to
help educate & prevent teen pregnancy/provide
support for young mothers
Project EMPOWER $10,000
Project Healthy Beginnings $50,000
One Youth At A Time Provides support & mentoring to at-risk youth Youth mentoring, tutoring &
outreach education
Asheville Symphony Performs & promotes symphonic
music for the benefit, enjoyment
& education of the people of WNC
Office rent relief & renovation $72,894
Project Lighten Up Summer & after-school education & recreation
camp for low-income and minority youth.
General support $75,000
Asheville-Buncombe Regional
Sports Commission
Brings sporting events to the region Southern Conference Championships $30,000
Economic impact through sports tourism $45,000
Big Ivy Community Club Pursuing greater opportunities
& benefits for neighbors & friends
Community Service Navigators program $25,000
Community Center $50,245
Helpmate served as Buncombe’s primary provider
of crisis services for victims of domestic violence
Crisis support for domestic violence victims $82,455
Asheville-Buncombe Institute
of Parity Achievement
Promotes economic, social & health parity
achievement for people of color in Buncombe
Community Service Navigators program $86,000
Buncombe County Schools Oversees public schools in Buncombe County Career Academy at Edwin High School $94,000
Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity Builds houses & helps preserve existing
homes, giving families an opportunity
or stability, security & advancement
Home repair $20,000
Housing services $75,000
All Souls Counseling Center Provides counseling to individuals, couples
& families regardless of their ability to pay
Accessible mental health care $100,000
Children First/
Communities in Schools
Advocates & empowers children
& families living in poverty
Success Coordinator $100,000
The Support Center Provides business training to reduce
barriers for the socially & economically disadvantaged
Womens’ Business Center WNC
capital access
YWCA of Asheville & WNC Dedicated to eliminating
racism & empowering women
Community Service Navigator program $25,000
MotherLove $25,000
Drop-In Child Care $50,000
Mountain Housing Opportunities Builds & improves homes, neighborhoods
& communities to build hope for individuals
Affordable housing
development & services
River Front Development Group Connects young adults & adults
to skills & educational opportunities
Project EEVE $136,716
Homeward Bound of WNC Moves people into housing & provides
the support they need to stay there
Project Rebound $50,000
AHOPE Day Center
Coordinated Assessment
Pisgah Legal Services Pursues justice by providing legal
assistance to low-income people in WNC
Child & Family Protection
& Self-Sufficiency Project
Pack Square Cultural Partnership Houses the Asheville Art Museum, Colburn Earth
Science Museum, Diana Wortham
Theatre & YMI Cultural Center
Maintenance & operations support $415,000
Ashevile Area Chamber Builds community & economic
success through business
Economic Development Coalition funding $500,000
Community Christian Ministry
Provides spiritual, social, physical, economic
& emotional support for Buncombe County
Community Service Navigator program $50,000
Our Circle $164,280
Transformation Village $600,000
Total $4,230,525

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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One thought on “Nonprofits present budget requests, fire chiefs discuss issues with Buncombe County Commissioners

  1. Big Al

    I find Ratcliff’s comments “it wasn’t what you got out of it; It was what you gave back to your community” to be pretty insensitive. That may have held water back when there were some non-tourism jobs left in the county. The largest employer in Asheville/Buncombe is Mission Hospitals, the second in the city/county government. How many of those doctors, nurses, clerks, lawyers and teachers do you think are willing to risk life and limb (or the loss of their paying jobs due to injury) to shoulder heavy fire hoses and crawl through smoke in a hefty respirator suit on their days off from work, all for nothing more than an “atta boy”? When the remainder are baristas, bartenders and wait staff, and most work two or three of those jobs to pay the rent, who has the time or energy left to be a volunteer fire fighter?

    Fire Safety, EMS and Law Enforcement are too important to rely on unpaid volunteers, no matter how civic-minded they may be, and I fully understand the volunteers’ motivation to eventually be paid for the work they initially do for free. If anyone is being selfish in this argument, it is people like Ratcliff who expect so much from so many for so little.

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