School budgets face scrutiny at special May 7 commission meeting

Buncombe County seal

The single biggest spending increase in Buncombe County’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, says the Board of Commissioners, deserves a little extra attention. Although A-B Tech, Asheville City and Buncombe County schools are currently slated to receive nearly $3.56 million in new funding — a 4.24% bump over last year’s allocation — they’ll have to make the case for more money at a 2 p.m. special meeting of the board on Tuesday, May 7, in the first floor conference room at 200 College St.

Speaking at the board’s April 30 budget work session, Chair Brownie Newman emphasized that education officials shouldn’t count on “automatic” growth of county support. “I think they should have to justify all of it,” he said. Referencing the worst-in-state academic achievement gap between white and black students at Asheville City Schools, he continued, “There’s tons of great stuff that happens in the schools, but some of the numbers we see are not good.”

The board agreed to move the schools’ presentations of their budgetary needs from a regularly scheduled pre-meeting to a special session exclusively devoted to education. Commissioners expect to spend the full three hours before their formal meeting at 5 p.m. on the same day taking a deep dive into the issues.

“If you’re asking for more money than you have now, I want to understand for all of that, what’s it going to be invested in,” Newman said. “Especially to turn around some of the numbers that we should not be satisfied with.”

In other business

Commissioners won’t have much to accomplish after they hear from the schools, judging by the light agenda for the board’s formal meeting. The only scheduled item of new business is a legally required approval for the Asheville City Board of Education to lease-purchase a new school phone system. No new funding is needed to pay for the $225,361.92 contract.

The board will also hear the third-quarter report on county finances from Chief Financial Officer Don Warn and Budget Director Jennifer Barnette. The county has collected more than 75% of its budgeted revenues for the year because of property taxes due on Jan. 1, while it has spent less than 75% of its budgeted expenditures due to the timing of debt service, maintenance and information technology needs.

The last remaining item is a proclamation of May as Motorcycle Awareness Month. “The Board feels that it is in the best interest of all citizens to promote motorcycle safety awareness and to foster a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among all users of our county roadways,” the document reads.

Consent agenda

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

  • Dedicate $70,000 of existing conservation easement funding to complete two easements on the Sluder Farm on Beaverdam Road in Candler. Staff members note that “development of farmland has started to be more common than a working family farm” in the area.
  • Donate a 2008 Dodge Durango to the Broad River Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. At the board’s April 16 meeting, Commissioner Mike Fryar had advocated for this vehicle to be pulled from a donation to the nonprofit Working Wheels so it could serve the county’s first responders.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7, in Room 326 at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. The board will also hold a special session at 2 p.m. in the first floor conference room in the same building to consider education funding requests. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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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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