Letter: What does Sheriff’s Office do for city residents?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The recent articles regarding the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office requesting additional taxpayer funds to pay for sheriff’s deputies patrolling downtown Asheville prompted me to wonder what services, if any, BCSO provides to city residents, outside of the special collaboration programs that began in the past year.

City residents pay Asheville city taxes to fund the Asheville Police Department, and APD provides law enforcement services to city residents. BCSO provides law enforcement services to residents in the county (who live outside the city).

However, city residents pay the same tax rate to Buncombe County as people who live outside the city, and those taxes fund the BCSO. Therefore, if city residents are not using or benefiting from the BCSO, then it would seem that city residents should pay a reduced tax rate to the county. Perhaps someone out there can help me understand what services the Sheriff’s Office routinely provides to city residents.

— L. Cash


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3 thoughts on “Letter: What does Sheriff’s Office do for city residents?

  1. JW

    The Sheriff operates the Courthouse, the Detention Center, and Civil Process, all of which are utilized by residents of the entire County, to include those of us inside various municipalities. Interestingly, those three duties are actually the only ones required of the Sheriff by NC Statute, meaning that Patrol of unincorporated areas is not. Someone has to do it, though.

    • Woobee

      I understand the Buncombe County sheriff’s office provides courthouse security, detention & jail services, as well as civil process. But the public has to pay a fee for civil process (it’s not free!) and non-city/county residents also use the courthouse and jail. So… like Mike said, Asheville city residents are still paying a disproportionate amount of tax to fund BCSO patrols & county services.

  2. Mike Rains

    Your question/insight is totally valid. A sizeable portion of the Buncombe County Sheriffs Office (BCSO) budget is spent on patrolling/law enforcement in the county; not in Asheville.

    Last October I sent County and City Leadership (and copied all major press outlets) a study/request that identified over $6M/year that should rightfully be returned to the City of Asheville (COA) for county taxes that Asheville residents pay but for which they receive NO benefit……and in fact have to pay City taxes for similar services in the City.

    While most county functions are “county-wide”, the following clearly aren’t: Sheriff patrol/law enforcement in the county, Sheriff animal control in the county, and County Fire Marshall activities that are county only (e.g., inspections and certifications).

    After a number of months requesting budget information on the BCSO function (which took many requests because the budget is a mess IMO) , I determined (conservatively) that over $6M/year was rightfully due back to Asheville. I further recommended this amount be applied to APD’s budget, since it was targeted for law enforcement/public safety to begin with.

    The really interesting part of this request/insight is that it was actually acted on back in the 1980’s and 1990’s when Asheville and Buncombe County “jointly” operated the water system. In COMPENSATION to Asheville assuming all operating costs fo the water system, the Buncombe County Commissioners (back then) agreed to provide Asheville with $2.5M/year for BCSO services in the county that were paid for by Asheville taxpayers. They provided a whole lot of other compensation to Asheville, which I’m also studying; however, clearly the inequity was identified and precedent established for over 2 decades. All of course went away when this water agreement was dissolved in the early 2000’s.

    I received two responses from my study/request. One through COA City Manager Campbell and as a reach out by the city’s Budget Director. We had a good talk but obviously there was nothing he could do on this request. I also received two short emails from Buncombe County Chairman Newman that, in effect, said “he didn’t think the BC Commission would support this request”.

    Disappointed of course, in the very limited direct response to this lengthy and detailed study; it became clear last fall that the main response was going to be stepped up publicity on all the things BCSO do for Asheville crime directly. Thus the very limited, (shall I say “window dressing”) weekend, evening downtown “walk throughs” (not even planning on arresting if needed), as well as myriad press releases on seemingly every arrest/major crime the BCSO is involved with.

    Keep in mind, the BCSO has two main functions and two separate budgets. The first being operation of the jail. The second being “County” law enforcement. It is this second function which I am challenging the funding on provided by Asheville taxpayers. It’s particualry galling in that as an Asheville resident, I have to pay city taxes also for an underfunded/challenged APD. So essentially, I’m being DOUBLE TAXED.

    Asheville taxpayers supply right at 40% of the total ad valorem property tax that the Buncombe County collects each year. The remaining 60% comes from county residents as well as the other municipalities (Black Mnt, Biltmore Forest, Weaverville, etc.), many of which also fund their own police departments from their own city taxes (like Asheville). So obviously this insight has wider reach than just Asheville; however, any clawbacks for those municipalities would be small potatoes compared to Asheville’s portion.

    As I indicated to area leaders, this request for taxes returned, is nothing personal against BCSO or the current Sheriff. That department is necessary for public safety in the county. When these monies are returned to Asheville and others, the Buncombe County Commissioners will sinply have to do the hard work of cutting some of the less important things they currently support and move those funds over to refill the BCSO function. But to hold onto those funds that are rightly due back to Asheville, is not an ethical or equitable option, in my opinion.

    So far, and to their credit, Mountain Express is the only press outlet that has allowed me to promote the resolution of this inequity; all others have ignored it. I plan to continue to raise thoughtful awareness about this issue with the hopes of gettting this addressed in some meaningful manner.

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