Earlier this decade, Buncombe County voters narrowly approved a quarter-cent sales tax hike to further fund A-B Tech. Years later, it was revealed the revenue raised by that tax hike wasn’t totally going to the school, but was instead being used to balance the county budget.
Asheville Citizen-Times reporter Jennifer Bowman found those new funds were being diverted into other areas as well - including into salaries former county manager Wanda Greene and one of her assistant managers Jon Creighton. Both have now plead guilty to unrelated fraud and corruption charges. Bowman joined BPR’s Matt Bush to provide details...
EXCERPTS OF INTERVIEW
First, remind us what the tax hike was and what it was supposed to go to - "The tax hike was narrowly approved in 2011. It was pretty complicated from the beginning. It was promised as a quarter-cent sales tax hike that would fund $130-million of new construction at A-B Tech. The people who supported the tax said it was necessary funding for a vital community asset that was expected to see growth. Opponents had raised concerns whether the money would be spent that way, because there was no legal requirement nor any language on the ballot for voters, saying this money would go to A-B Tech."
The initial revelations found money raised by the tax hike was being used to balance the county budget. What else did you find that it was going to? - "The county has been using most of the money (raised) for an annual appropriation to A-B Tech. For this year it was $6.5-million. But while the county was increasing the amount of money it was taking out the A-B Tech tax fund, it was actually slashing the annual appropriation it gave to A-B Tech. That was an interesting thing to find. But something that no one thought the money would be spent was for county salaries, including for Wanda Greene and Jon Creighton. Basically that money was justified as 'Wanda Greene spent 30-percent of her time that year on A-B Tech projects. So 30-percent of her salary was covered by A-B Tech funds.' That's how it was explained to me by county staff."
How much has this diverting of the money affected the various construction and infrastructure needs at the school? - "There is this question of the $15-million of questionable spending using this tax. The school has finished some new construction. They have a $39-million allied health building. They have the parking deck. And they have a conference center. But with those last projects, there are some questions whether A-B Tech really wanted those projects or whether that was something ordered by Wanda Greene. You will hear though from some A-B Tech officials about this backlog of maintenance, which is another issue amidst this tax controversy. The school has a $25-million backlog of maintenance right now, which officials blame on the county slashing the school's yearly appropriation."