By Leslee Kulba- On the Buncombe County Commissioners’ agenda was a request for a $50,000 incentive payment from the Asheville Humane Society. The organization had missed the county’s July 5 deadline, and so they were requesting consideration after-the-fact. The humane society partners with the Buncombe County Animal Shelter, and for years has handled a service the county would otherwise assume. The AHS in past years has come before the commission stating their goal of totally eliminating the need to euthanize healthy animals.
In 2006, the AHS euthanized 1055 animals and was able to release only 36.4% of the animals it took in. This year, no healthy animals have been euthanized, and 92.6 percent of all animals taken in were released alive. The percentage of unhealthy animals euthanized dropped from 36 to 4 over the last decade.
The first incentive offered by the county was $7,500 for each half of a percent in the increase of the organization’s live release rate, up to a maximum of $22,500. The AHS actually realized a 6.4 percent increase, saving 343 more lives than they thought they would.
The second incentive would be a county match of up to $27,500 for every dollar the organization spent on intake prevention programs. The AHS spent $224,430, and saw a 32 percent decrease in intakes, compared to 2006. Overall, the humane society spent $2,014,681 over and above contract and service revenue to save animal lives. Contributions to AHS ran around $1.7 million, a 703 percent increase over 2006 amounts. Whereas taxpayer dollars funded $760,000 in basic shelter services, AHS picked up the entire bill for live-saving and intake prevention programs.
Chair David Gantt explained staff did not have the authority to make the payment; they needed to go through a process. Having done that with the public business item, Gantt praised the humane society for over twenty years of quality service for the county and then made a motion to approve that payment. Mike Fryar seconded, and all but Ellen Frost, an animal rights activist herself, supported the measure. Gantt then ascertained the payment would be formalized with a budget amendment to be approved with the commissioners’ next consent agenda, and funds would be disbursable thereafter.
On the subject of missing deadlines for incentives, during public comment, Attorney Bob Christie, representing Waste Pro, explained his client was in a similar situation. He asked the commissioners if they would consider waiving the deadline as a condition of awarding them tax credits. Christie said neither he nor turn-around artist Chip Jingles had known about the incentive until too late. Jingles came to the area last year following justifiable complaints that trash was not getting picked up. It was piling up in some areas, Waste Pro was not answering their phones, and angry people turned to the local TV station to be heard.
The county was about to sign a contract with another hauler, but Waste Pro begged another chance to make things right. They worked under close supervision of county management, and Jingles set to work making the hard decisions. In days following, brigades of Waste Pro trucks could be seen picking up uncollected and abandoned trash to beat the band. Waste Pro proved faithful and so retains the contract to this day.
Back to the incentive, the county offers a tax credit for any organization that hauls at least 23,000 tons of disposables to the landfill and/or the transfer station. Waste Pro hauled 29,600 tons. Christie expressed effulgent gratitude to county leadership for giving Waste Pro a second chance. He added that Waste Pro employs more than sixty, most of whom live in the county; they paid $24,000 in taxes last year; and they invested $1 million in equipment upgrades, new computers, and new hires.
Chair David Gantt then asked for consensus to put the request on the commissioners’ next agenda. It would not be proper to make an on-the-spot decision without giving members of the public a chance to weigh in.
In Other Matters –
The commissioners held the required public hearing for the 2016 reappraisal. Only two citizens took advantage of the time, and Commissioner Tim Moffitt had a lot of general questions about appraisals.
Regular Jerry Rice complained thirty days was not enough time for the general public to study the 600-page assessment book. He complained that tax values were increasing as the county’s revenue base was growing. In addition to giving the commissioners more money to spend, the greater revenues allow the county to leverage more debt.
Rice then made fun of the internal inconsistencies in commissioner goals. He asked how raising the values of property was supposed to help with affordable housing. He then asked why vacant land was taxed for its highest and best use, as if the highest and best use were a nice, big house. “Vacant land provides oxygen, views, wildlife habitat, and a better quality of life than all property defined at its highest and best use,” said he.
Lisa Baldwin thanked the Republicans on the board who had voted against the tax-increasing appraisal. She faulted the commissioners for doing assessments every four years only when it is to the county’s advantage, rather than the advantage of the people the county is supposed to be serving. She repeated Rice’s comments about valuations increasing as the tax base, sales revenues, and tax rates continue to climb. She said the county should focus on core services, and rely on increased revenues from the Asheville Outlets and changes in state law to fund programs.
Lastly, she informed the board on TV that a public information request she had placed had received only a partial and unsatisfactory answer. She had asked how much the county was spending “moving agencies around,” something the county has been doing frequently. For example, Election Services has moved from the county annex to the Bill Stanley building to McDowell Road. The commissioners’ chamber moved from the courthouse to the old bank building across the street; the move including an intermediate meeting room during construction. The county wasn’t just putting up big buildings to accommodate growing government; a lot of offices were being renovated as well.