Over a dozen speakers ventured out on June 16 to share their thoughts during the COVID-19 era’s first county public hearing. The commissioners subsequently gave unanimous approval to a spending plan little modified from that recommended by County Manager Avril Pinder.
Data from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority shows that just 1,210 people boarded a plane at the airport in April, the latest month for which information is available. That number marks a 98% decrease from the 61,230 enplanements reported in April 2019.
The proposed general fund budget of nearly $335.65 million marks a 1.1% decrease from the current fiscal year’s $339.46 million total. To support those expenditures, the county would use more than $11.33 million of its fund balance, down roughly 23% from the $14.79 million in reserves spent this year.
Support for programs in Buncombe County that serve older adults — one of the groups most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19 — is set to decrease by more than $78,000 from the current fiscal year, according to a new budget proposed by the county’s Health and Human Services department.
The spending reductions presented on April 21 by Budget Director Jennifer Barnette totaled about $1.5 million — less than 7% of an estimated $22 million gap between revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2021 — in areas ranging from the Buncombe County Detention Center to information technology.
Due to the county’s heavy reliance on tourism — an industry especially vulnerable to travel and business restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — Budget Director Jennifer Barnette estimated that April, May and June would all see sales tax receipts 35% less than in 2019.
Educators will ask the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for nearly $87,000 in additional funding to ensure meals keep flowing during the April 6-10 break. Approximately 12,000 meals are being provided daily to children ages 2-18, helping meet critical nutrition needs for kids whose families are under stress from the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved the proposal — including over $334.5 million in general fund spending, the portion primarily funded by property taxes — in a 6-1 vote at its June 18 regular meeting. Only Commissioner Mike Fryar cast his vote in opposition to the plan.
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. The budget contains over $9.1 million in general fund capital spending, roughly $7.58 million of which will be financed through debt.
Most of the 16 public commenters at the June 4 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners hearing on the budget made the case for allocations beyond the roughly $334.52 million in suggested general fund spending. Libraries, schools and nonprofits all approached commissioners for more money.
Although County Manager Avril Pinder warned commissioners in April that her recommended budget might cause the county to dip below its policy-recommended fund balance of 15%, the projected difference between Buncombe’s assets and liabilities remains over that bar in the most recent version.
Buncombe’s current policy, said County Manager Avril Pinder, requires a fund balance of at least 15%, or $47.35 million. However, the projected fiscal 2020 budget would put the balance at 14.76%, and if a $5.25 million sale of county property on Ferry Road is delayed or falls through, the balance could drop to as little as 13.09%.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will start the new year with a Tuesday, Jan. 6, meeting, at which they’ll consider changes to the Animal Control Ordinance, including current regulations for tethering dogs.