The public has spoken — now, it’s the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ turn. County Manager Avril Pinder recommended no substantive changes to Buncombe’s fiscal year 2019-20 budget following a June 4 public hearing, and board members are scheduled to vote on the spending plan at their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 18, at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville.
The budget contains over $9.1 million in general fund capital spending, roughly $7.58 million of which will be financed through debt. The biggest single expense on the docket is over $1.65 million to purchase approximately 48 new vehicles for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the first installment of similar annual spending on the fleet planned through fiscal year 2024.
“Buncombe’s frankly been driving cars a lot longer than many other counties and far past the lifespan of what would be considered safe for sheriff’s deputies,” noted Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara at an April 30 budget work session. However, Commissioner Mike Fryar, who works as an auto dealer, countered the county had “a nice fleet of cars” and that he would not support that level of spending.
The next largest item is $1 million for an emergency communications tower at Garren Creek in Fairview. “It’s one that keeps getting shuffled down, but obviously we’re going to get to the point where we can’t keep shuffling it down anymore,” county budget analyst Matt Evans told commissioners at the April work session. He said the county had previously estimated a $600,000 cost for the project, but new projections suggested that the tower may need to be completely replaced instead of just retrofitted.
In other business
Beyond the budget, commissioners will consider three rezoning proposals. Two are small projects, backed by county staff, to allow commercial uses on Rutherford Road and US Highway 70; the remaining request, for which both staff and the Buncombe County Planning Board recommend denial, would allow denser residential development on a 14-acre property in Swannanoa.
That site, located on Woodland Drive, is currently zoned as Residential Low Density, which is meant for “areas where topographic or other constraints preclude intense urban development.” Staff members contend that the high-elevation location has significant slope stability hazard risks and is unsuitable for the proposed new home lots.
The board will also consider a budget adjustment to reflect higher-than-anticipated occupancy tax revenues; the county collects these funds before transferring them to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. According to Budget Director Jennifer Barnette, room tax revenue is up 9% compared to the same time last year, and the county estimates a total collection of roughly $27 million.
Finally, commissioners will take up the roughly $2.08 million funding plan for the Land of Sky Regional Council to manage the county’s services for senior citizens. The county’s share of that money, just over $570,000, stays the same as that of last fiscal year, while state funding has decreased by about $10,000.
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains nine items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:
- Set fees and costs for fiscal year 2019-20. In a memo available before the meeting, Senior Staff Attorney Michel Frue noted that staff members needed extra time to “assure accuracy and formatting” of a new fee schedule, so the vote will be to reapprove the fee schedule currently in force.
- Support Buncombe County Schools’ application for $2.15 million from the Public School Building Capital Fund supported by the N.C. Education Lottery. The money would be used for additions and renovations at Fairview Elementary School.
- Approve a budget transfer of $132,991 to subsidize debt service on the Woodfin downtown project. According to Barnette, bond payments for this project are largely supported by “the taxes received on the incremental valuation accruing to the Woodfin Downtown Corridor District,” but those taxes fall an estimated $201,795 short of the full payment for fiscal year 2018-19.
The board will hold a pre-meeting at noon in the first floor conference room of the same building. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.