Government

Millions spent and saved by county commissioners

By Leslee Kulba

Buncombe – At their last meeting, the Buncombe County Commissioners formalized action on a done-deal at the February 4 meeting.

The matter at-hand was, according to the PowerPoint presentation, issuing debt to cover $12 million in county capital projects, $22 million in city and county school improvements, and refinancing of $172.5 million in existing debt. Refinancing at better rates was estimated to save the county $20.5 million over 15 years.

The PowerPoint presentation was dated March 3, but so was the staff report describing $15 million in county capital projects and $24 million in city and county school improvements. The refinancing was expected to save the county $14.5 million over the same 15 years.

The Local Government Commission reviewed and approved the loan, and so did the commissioners.

Capital improvements for the county include a new East Asheville Library ($7 million); facelifts for the courthouse ($1.7 million), detention center ($1.4 million), and commissioners’ building ($626,017); replacement of the dock at the Lake Julian marina ($264,000); and roof and HVAC replacements. Improvements at schools included demolition of Asheville’s ROTC building; a stage for Avery Creek Elementary; a track and field for Enka and TC Roberson high schools; greenhouses for six schools; LED lighting throughout the system; and repaving, covered walkways, HVAC, re-roofings, and other improvements for sundry schools. Well over $2 million will go toward school security, primarily for making sure police radios work in all parts of the schools.

On another topic, the commissioners unanimously approved keeping things as-is at the 911 call center but renaming some things for financial gain. The county’s 911 manager, Brooke Hazlett, explained, saying back in 2003, the county entered into an agreement with the City of Asheville to establish a consolidated public safety communications center by 2006. After one addendum to push back the completion deadline, the city and county approved a second addendum that made the county responsible for the purchase and maintenance of all equipment except police radios.
The city and county operations ran independently of each other, but out of the same building.

So, in 2006, the state’s 911 Board informed the county that, for the purpose of receiving 911 funding, the call centers were collocated, but not consolidated. In other words, the operational expenses of the city were not eligible for reimbursement.

The county appears to have challenged the interpretation since a final decision was not made until November last year. And that was to put the county on the hook for covering all of the city’s expenses, or about $38,000.
So, the commissioners, on staff advice, agreed to a third addendum that would relabel the city a Secondary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Doing so would position the county to receive full reimbursement for all equipment purchased for either party in the future. Asheville City Council approved its end of the agreement in January.

The measure was approved in two motions, one to relabel the city’s part of the relationship, and the other to authorize a budget amendment to cover what the county had expected the 911 Board to reimburse. As a welcoming gesture, when it was time for a motion on the latter, Commissioner Joe Belcher said, referring to the newest member of the team, “Make a motion over there, Commissioner Penland.”

Anthony Penland was sworn in to replace the late Mike Fryar earlier in the meeting. Before that, Fryar’s family was on hand to receive a tribute paid in his honor.

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