AshevilleCity - County Gov.Leslee KulbaNews Stories

Buncombe’s Favorite Gadflies Not Seeing the Fruit of Economic Investment


To accomplish all this, members of the EDC would be traveling to twelve markets throughout the United States. Trips would include solo ventures to talk to individual companies, junkets with state representatives to attend expos, and excursions with business representatives that would “tell that story for us.” Funds would also support research, with studies including one on the beer economy and another on the economic impact of music. It is the EDC that collects data to calculate the local cost of living index, and they fulfill over 200 requests for local statistics. In addition, the EDC is developing a “new regionally-recognized research brand.”

Teague said 65 percent of economic development announcements celebrate existing business growth. “We are very methodical about knocking on their doors and forming relationships,” he said. For example, representatives from the organization aim to visit 120 local companies this year. The EDC is also working to mentor startup business principals and place graduates of Western North Carolina colleges in the local economy. Among his final remarks, Teague presented a bar graph with 00,000’s marked off along the ordinate to show funding had dropped a couple 00,000’s since 2015.

Only two members of the public spoke during the hearing. Don Yelton said his taxes had increased 20 percent during the last revaluation. He is trying to provide three rentals to help with the affordable housing crisis, but his taxes have gone up $800-900 a year, he has to pay $300-400 a year for insurance, and it is not atypical for a tenant to move out and leave a $5000 repair bill. Referring to one of Teague’s bar graphs, he said, “All that green money out there, I don’t see it affect me one bit.”

Jerry Rice began, “I have heard EDC come here many, many times over thirty years, and I have yet to see them produce anything – except money for them.” He challenged, “I’d like to know why we are getting poorer and poorer with our children and DSS is growing by leaps and bounds if all this investment that we’re hearing about” was working as described.

Chair Brownie Newman noted the $300,000 amount could change during the budget process. No votes were taken.

In Other Matters –

Staff at the local daily were concerned about language in a memorandum of understanding drawn up for a feasibility study Duke Energy would conduct on the retired Woodfin landfill. The commissioners had discussed offering the site for a solar farm and agreed to spend $27,000 on a feasibility study; but Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Ellen Frost believed Newman had jumped the gun. With Bob Pressley, they were outvoted, so the project will proceed.

Newman owns Headwaters Solar and holds an interest in FLS Energy and Cypress Creek; but from the onset, he insisted none of his companies would profit off the idea. Instead, he offered his expertise to bring together a good deal. Duke was offering to pay for the feasibility study, regardless of outcome; and finance the project if the site proved viable. As part of its commitment to replace the coal-burning plant at Lake Julian, Duke had agreed to provide 15MW of solar generation in Western North Carolina by 2023. So, by taking on the project, Duke would not be imposing any expenses on ratepayers that it wouldn’t otherwise. As an additional bonus, Newman noted, it is rare to have a financier onboard so early in the process. Newman said he had reached out to other companies, but they were not interested in working with the challenging site.

The memorandum gave both parties the option of terminating the agreement at any time. County Attorney Bob Deutsch explained the agreement protected both entities from a change in board representation, and it did not bar other parties from making a better offer.

The problem was, Duke used boilerplate for the contract, which included terms of nondisclosure, which wouldn’t survive a challenge to open meetings laws. The document also stated lawsuits would be tried in South Carolina. Both items were deemed oversights and corrected; but nobody asked, for example, what Buncombe County Schools meant by the quantity “$691,00” or the signing of the wrong blanks by the superintendent and secretary in that organization’s staff reports. It was, as they say, close enough for government work.

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