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Stay on the pulse of the decisions being made at meetings for Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission, with reports from BPR’s Laura Hackett.

Last night at Commission: Waste Pro rate hikes, $400,000 in unused mortgage relief funds

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meet every first and third Tuesday at 200 College Street.
BPR News
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meet every first and third Tuesday at 200 College Street.

Should Buncombe’s election services director make more money? That was the most debated question at last night’s Buncombe County Board of Commissioner meeting. Ultimately, commissioners tabled a vote on a resolution to increase current director Corinne Duncan’s salary to $115,000 until the January 16 meeting.

The $6,000 raise represents only 5.5% of the current $109,222 salary, but commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Amanda Edwards, and Al Whitesides expressed confusion and concern around the issue. Commissioners wanted more data related to how other election services directors are compensated statewide, beyond what the Buncombe Board of Elections provided. They also expressed hesitancy about making a decision on pay for a county staffer.

“I never feel comfortable getting involved in the salaries of employees,” Whitesides said. “That’s why we have a county manager… but on the other hand, we need to look at this. I don’t want us to go down a slippery hill here. I want us to make sure we do the right thing for everyone involved.”

According to state law, it is the board of elections’ role to recommend a salary for the election services director and the commission’s role to implement that salary increase. The board made its recommendation in June 2023. County spokesperson Kassi Day said that commissioners also set pay for the sheriff, tax collector, property assessment director, and air quality director.

Read on for more on the January 2 meeting, including rate hikes for trash and recycling and why the county is returning $400,000 in unused mortgage relief to the federal government.

County returns $400,000 in unused mortgage assistance

At the recommendation of Stoney Blevins, Buncombe county’s health and human services director, the board opted to return $404,000 of federal funding that was meant to help with pandemic-related mortgage assistance.

In a presentation, Blevins said one roadblock to distributing the funds was a “slow start” from the federal government, which distributed the funds to the county eight months behind schedule. Other hurdles were that folks in Asheville city limits were not eligible for the program, he said, along with the grant period ending in June 2023.

The money was also “covid-specific,” meaning the assistance would have to be tied back to “being caused directly by the pandemic,” he said, adding “at this point we are so removed from the public health emergency ending that it will almost be impossible to find that tie back at this point in time.”

“It’s just such a shame, because we could have put that money to good use, but I understand what you’re saying,” commissioner Terri Wells said.

A photo of the Waste Pro truck in front of The Biltmore House, used in Waste Pro's presentation on November 21.
Screen grab from Buncombe County
A photo of the Waste Pro truck in front of The Biltmore House, used in Waste Pro's presentation on November 21.

Waste Pro hikes its rates

As of the new year, Buncombe county’s 42,000 residents who use Waste Pro for trash and recycling services will see a rate increase of about $1 per month. The new monthly subscriber fee is $23.66; last year’s rate was $22.55.

The increase is part of Waste Pro’s annual contract and did not require approval from the commissioners to execute. Meanwhile, the county is moving forward in its decision to search for other possible trash and recycling providers, after deciding at last month’s meeting to not to renew the Waste Pro contract and instead to put the service up to bid.

To further streamline the process, the county also updated its Solid Waste ordinance. Buncombe Solid Waste Director Dane Pederson said the change removes redundancies, allows more flexibility with contracts and gives more clarity to things such as “the definition of dumpster.”

Other tidbits

  • Work continues on a city-county joint project to build a low-barrier shelter, an endeavor that aims to provide highly accessible housing for the area’s homeless population. Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who serves as the county’s liaison on the project, says the team is working with the Homeward Bound CEO Carl Falconer and Dr. Shuchin Shukla, an addiction physician and consultant. 
  • Commissioners voted to join the newly-created North Carolina CLASS Investment Pool as an investment opportunity for idle funds. An investment is not required to join the pool, and county officials did not pledge any investments at last night’s meeting. 
Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.