Last night at commission: Wanda Greene settlement, Ferry Road plan, and teacher pay raises
Last night, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners had two last-minute additions to the agenda: a $500,000 settlement from former county manager Wanda Greene and a budget amendment to increase teacher pay.
The county also heard an update on the Ferry Road project, a mixed-use project that includes affordable housing, land conservation, and community services.
The final chapter of the Wanda Greene saga?
In an unexpected twist, commissioners held a closed session before the start of the formal meeting. At the closed session, the county heard and approved a $502,500 settlement deal from Wanda Greene, her son Michael Greene, and her daughter-in-law Celena Greene. The deal is expected to be the final settlement of the legal saga, according to the county.
The Greenes pled guilty on numerous counts of fraud and corruption charges in 2019 for embezzling millions from the county. So far, Wanda Greene has paid $750,000 in settlements related to kickbacks and bribes. The county has recuperated around $4 million in misappropriated funds, some of which also involved former county manager Mandy Stone, former assistant county manager Jon Creighton, and former commissioner Ellen Frost.
In order to secure a legal release from the county, the Greenes must pay $150,000 by the end of October and complete all payments no later than December 2025.
Local teachers get a modest pay bump
Educators and other members of the NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators) showed up en masse to last night’s meeting to advocate for a local supplement for teacher salaries in Buncombe County.
At public comment, educator Soren Pedersen said the “state has failed” in providing adequate pay raises for teachers and implored the county to increase pay for local teachers, who are struggling with the financial impacts of inflation and the rapidly growing cost of living in Buncombe County. See Pederson’s full speech at 40:54.
In a last minute addition to the agenda, commissioners did vote and pass a budget amendmentof $6.1 million that gives local teachers a 2% pay raise. The money comes from a one-percent “penny tax” approved earlier this year. In addition to these funds, the state has allocated an average salary increase of 4% for teachers as part of its latest budget.
Commission chair Brownie Newman applauded the pay increase, saying that it reflects a “more than 26% increase” in county funding for education, in addition to the $3.6 million spent on early childhood education funding. “There’s no county in the state who has increased school funding over 25% in a year,” he said.
“While as a state we are certainly not where we want to be… I hope people do appreciate that there is real progress being made at the local level,” he said. See Newman’s full comments at 1:43:51.
Pedersen, who spoke for ten minutes during public comment on behalf of himself and eight fellow educators, was disappointed in the county’s education funding and told BPR it didn’t go far enough.
“[The commissioners] were given the opportunity to do their part to help offset the damage being done by the state, as well as to help combat the local factors driving teachers out of Buncombe more specifically, and they failed,” Pedersen wrote in an email to BPR.
“The unified, public-facing message that a 2% increase is good enough when teachers are struggling financially with the decision to continue to live in the community comes across as cold.”
Vision for Ferry Road is unveiled
The public got an update on the Ferry Road project from economic development and governmental relations director Tim Love. This comes after the county voted to allot nearly $3 million for the project in September, for a total of $4.9 million to be spent on the project with federal COVID recovery funding.
The proposed mixed-use housing development sits on 137 acres of county-owned land, bordering the French Broad River and Bent Creek area. The plan was developed in partnership with the UNC School of Government. As proposed, the project includes:
- 645 total housing units with 530 rental properties and 115 homes for sale
- 54% of all housing units will be affordable (<100% AMI)
- 22,000 square feet for community services such as childcare and health services
- 72 conserved acres (about 60% of the entire property)
- 1.9 greenway miles
- 1.7 trail miles
The price tag of the project is steep – it’s estimated at $210 million. In order to complete the project, the county said a public-private partnership would be essential, as the county can only contribute around $34 million. At the very earliest, construction would not start on the project until 2026.
In the meantime, the county invites residents to give input on the proposal virtually or at the following events:
- Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. at the Enka-Candler Library
- Saturday, Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. for a virtual meeting
- Thursday, Nov. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at 200 College St.
Every first and third Tuesday, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meets at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville beginning at 5:00 p.m. See the full recording of the October 3 meeting.