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City/County Officials Play Nice

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The program began with County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene and City Manager Gary Jackson discussing economic development. Jackson displayed a map locating thirty-three corporations that have located or expanded in the county since 2010, thanks to local government investing in critical infrastructure, padding their bottom lines with cash or tax breaks, or all of the above. Jackson mentioned public investments in the US Cellular Center to make it tournament-worthy again. Surely alluding to a request to honor veteran councilman Jan Davis, Jackson dropped news that the lobby of the civic center will be getting a new name. A slide, shown to celebrate New Belgium’s commitment to building greenways, featured County Chair Gantt, Manheimer, and Kim Jordan, the brewery’s CEO at the time, raising a glass. Manheimer’s was empty.

Greene next spoke about public safety. The new training facility is referred to as “the Castle.” Greene told of the high-demand for various public safety services and the volume and range of training programs conducted there. In addition to emergency management, the city and county cooperate with programs like the drug suppression and investigative law enforcement unit, Crimestoppers, and two criminal records operations maintained with almost $3 million annually. Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton spoke very briefly about the two new public schools and three new buildings being constructed on the AB Tech campus.

Assistant County Manager Mandy Greene next took the mic, largely echoing comments made by Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department Chief Glen Matayabas at the last commissioners’ meeting. She highlighted the new Family Justice Center, sharing even floor plans. To better serve victims of domestic abuse, the new facility will offer ambience. Victims will be greeted by navigators, an essential element in today’s growing bureaucracies, while enjoying a homey setting with rocking chairs overlooking a garden.

More serious were the statistics. Last year, the county’s 911 switchboard received 5314 calls for service for domestic violence. Helpmate sheltered 131 broken families fleeing abuse and turned away another 265. Helpmate will be able to serve about 200 families once it relocates to the FJC. As if damaging people is not bad enough, a 2014 study conducted by UNC Charlotte with funding by Wells Fargo determined the economic impact of domestic violence in Buncombe County was $6.7 million. In addition to losses in physical and mental health, the study included opportunity costs. A similar analysis, published by the US Department of Justice, claimed rape was the most costly of all crimes, costing victims in this country $127 billion a year. There is no limit to the abstractions that can be drawn from nth-order stretches.

Taking another tack, Stone told the presumably typical story of an abused woman who sought refuge for herself and her daughter through county services. She filled out 61 forms, made 5 phone calls and 8 car trips, spoke to 21 people, waited 12 times, and received 30 referrals. What’s even worse is, after a barrage of red tape like that, some victims fail to receive help. The FJC will serve as a one-stop shop that will allow victims to access the gamut of government services under one roof. From a management perspective, the FJC will streamline operations, redirecting resources for greater impact. Advantages for citizens will include fewer homicides, greater victim safety, and more peace of mind for victims.

Stone next spoke of the Buncombe County Comprehensive Care Center to be established at 356 Biltmore Avenue. County leaders endearingly refer to it as 3C356. Reasons for building a one-stop behavioral health clinic include law enforcement officers being required to wait with those they escort to medical facilities. Waits might take three days per patient, and average monthly “drop-offs” number 172. Taking officers off patrol this much puts regular citizens at higher risk of longer response times, and put officers in the awkward position of weighing the cost of letting a person dangerous to himself or others go against lost opportunities of sitting around a hospital. To get around this, a deputy will be posted 24-7 at 3C356.

Other advantages include diverting those with behavioral problems; namely, addictions, from emergency rooms. 400-500 persons with complex behavioral health needs are admitted to local emergency rooms monthly. 200 are involuntarily committed. 3C356 will accept walk-ins and drop-offs, many of whom caused trouble only because they went off their meds, and can resume normal lives with a simple leveling off. Meds will be available on-site, pharmacists and physicians will be able to consult with each other, and patients will get comprehensive care to help them stick with the program.

Last on the agenda was a presentation on Innovation Districts by urban planner Stephanie Monson Dahl. Innovation districts are defined in strings of New Urbanist, Smart Growth catch phrases. They create jobs through public/private investment in infrastructure, or so the story goes. To date, over $50 million has been invested in the River Arts District. The other districts are the South Slope, running south of the Mission Hospital campus; North Charlotte Street, running between Chestnut and Evelyn; and the Central Business District. Finance Director Barbara Whitehorn said the city had a five-year CIP to invest $108 million in its Innovation Districts, $43 million of which would flow from outside sources like the federal government.

When Gantt opened the floor for further comment, Commissioner Holly Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor, announced an affordable housing summit, with details to be announced. She wanted to invite members of the private sector who were “willing to roll up their sleeves,” because “we understand the public sector can’t do this all alone.” Ellen Frost wanted to be sure realistic wage reform would be considered as part of the equation. Gordon Smith wanted to give a shout-out-to Givens Estates for recently receiving approval for low-income tax credits. With this, Givens will have completed 262 affordable housing units for seniors.

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