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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: County approves $628 million budget and property tax increase

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

Buncombe County’s $628 million budget passed unanimously on Tuesday but not without some discomfort from commissioners. The budget will raise the property tax rate by nearly two cents.

Commission Chair Brownie Newman described the process as “probably the toughest budget” he has ever worked on in his 12-year tenure.

“We've been coming through an era where cost of living has really gone up throughout our economy,” Newman said. “Cost of housing is going up. Cost of everyday goods is going up. And the cost of labor is going up.”

Commissioner Martin Moore added that the process was “painful.”

The budget will grant a 4.89% cost of living increase to all 1,600 Buncombe employees. It will also create 30 new positions including 13 in public safety.

One of the biggest pain points in the FY 2024-25 budget was education funding, which will receive about $129 million or 20% of the total budget. With the end of Covid-era recovery funding and the decline of state funding for public schools, the two local school systems supported by the county requested steep increases in local funding.

Buncombe County Schools requested $13.5 million in additional funding from the county, and Asheville City Schools requested an additional $3.8 million. The requests were largely spurred by the expiration of COVID-era Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, a program that provided additional federal funds to schools nationwide during the pandemic.

Commissioners approved only a small fraction of the requests. Buncombe school system will receive a $3.4 million increase while Asheville will receive $600,000.

The cost of education rose over the last few years, increasing by more than 25% since 2022, according to the county.

Commissioner Al Whitesides said that the state of education funding is untenable.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions moving forward. What we're doing now is not working. We are giving all that we can give,” he said.

Moore echoed the concerns and suggested that in the future Buncombe develop a “multi-year funding strategy” for local education.

Buncombe’s tax increase comes on the heels of the City of Asheville’s decision to raise taxes last week.

For Buncombe county property owners, a home valued at $400,000 – the median property value in Buncombe – will experience an annual increase of $78.40.

Other tidbits

  • Commissioners heard a report on the impact of $50.7 million in ARPA funding – also known as Covid recovery funding – used for community projects. Of those funds, $12 million went to affordable housing and $6 million went to homeless services. The county also voted to reallocate $1.9 million in unused funds to the Community Paramedic Collaborative and for “Capital Outlay Equipment,” which will include items like heart monitors and ventilators. See a full breakdown of how the money was spent. 
  • Robb Hartman was hired as the county’s new Internal Audit Director. His most recent role was as an audit manager with the Colorado State University system. His first day will be July 15.  

Every first and third Tuesday, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meets at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville beginning at 5 p.m. See the full recording and agenda of the June 18 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.
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