By Clint Parker –
For a number of years some City of Asheville officials have complained about Buncombe County residents use of city recreation facilities without paying for them. Now, a local bill introduced in the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh would solved that problem by creating an Asheville/Buncombe Parks & Recreation Authority.
The bill sponsored by Representatives Nathan Ramsey (R-District 115) and Tim Moffitt (R-District 116) would create an authority that would oversee the operations of city and county parks and facilities. County and city parks and recreational assets would be signed over to the new board with members appointed by the city and county.
The bill calls a seven member board with three appointed by Asheville and three appointed by Buncombe County and the seventh a joint appointment by both governing bodies and calls for at least one city council member and one county commission member to be appointed to the authority, but doesn’t limit it to only one.
The body would have the power to close, sell and purchase properties along with entering into leases and creating fees for services and use. Assets could not be signed back to the original owners without the vote of a majority of the board. The board would also have the power to tax all county residents up to seven cents per $100 of property evaluation. The authority could also ask for issuing bonds.
While the bill appears to be what some City of Asheville officials were looking for in funding, it will put the burden of funding on all county taxpayers including those in small municipalities such Weaverville, Woodfin and Black Mountain, who will have no representation on the new parks and recreation authority.
The Tribune called Ramsey and Moffitt about the bill. Ramsey called back, but the reporter was not in at the time and Moffitt did not return the calls by press time. Asked what he thought of the bill, Buncombe County Chairman David Gantt said, “I feel pretty good about it.” He went on to say that it was a good opportunity to plan, organize and finance cultural, parks and recreational facilities.
Gantt told the Tribune “I always thought they (city officials) had a point” about county residents using city recreation facilities and not paying for them. He went on to say that the county has the best credit rating between the two, and that rating could be used to get a “2.7% interest (rate on bonds) because of the good credit rating” to construct and/or expand recreational and cultural facilities. Gantt says that the county needs to work with the city to have the best services for residents of the area.
Asked if there had been any talks with the city about the bill, he said there have been some informal talks and that the city council is divided about the bill.
When Gantt was asked if the bill included the smaller municipalities in the county such as Weaverville, Woodfin and Black Mountain, he said, “At the current time it does not…but it could be expanded. We want to be team players.” Asked if the seven panel authority created by the bill would be enlarged to include members from these smaller municipalities, Gantt said, “We’d have to talk about that.”
“People don’t care who owns them (the facilities), they just want to use them,” he added. A call to Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy was also not returned by press time.