Last year, the county budgeted $73,919,815 toward “Education.” This year, prior to the last-minute $1,539,178 addition, the county planned to appropriate $80,341,068. While multiple studies claim no correlation between school spending and student performance, educators today complain the job is getting harder. In the absence of parental support, the whole child must be nurtured through programs that include English as a second language and trigger management. Schools need more professional counselors and security guards as well. Then, there’s all that technology a 21st-century education demands. On top of this, playing games with the fungibility of money, had the commissioners not made the eleventh-hour move, the county would have defaulted on its promise to phase-in local teacher supplemental pay.
Mike Fryar was the only commissioner to vote against the budget. At the last meeting, he had supported the idea of using funds from the quarter-cent tax levied for capital improvements on the AB Tech campus for the school’s maintenance. At the time, Fryar suggested it didn’t make sense to invest so much money in new buildings if the county was going to leave them to fall apart. He even suggested the county contract with retired county General Services Manager Greg Israel to manage the initiative, and the commissioners unanimously approved Israel’s appointment via the consent agenda.
Before the vote, though, Fryar reminded the audience how AB Tech had “bought the election.” He said the money had been set aside to fix the school, not to pay people. The county, he said, was “in a hole,” and “using this credit card to pay for that credit card.” But Fryar hadn’t flip-flopped. In a follow-up conversation, he explained in those eleventh-hour discussions, and unbeknownst to the public, county leadership had decided to use funds from the AB Tech quarter-cent tax to pay AB Tech employees. Teachers are paid by the state, but security guards, maintenance personnel, and landscapers are paid from the county’s general fund. The move, therefore, expanded the county’s general fund budget and set AB Tech’s capital improvement program up for early depletion, justifying, perhaps, another bond referendum in the nearer future. As a representative of taxpayers and as a member of AB Tech’s board of directors, Fryar felt the need to stand up to the undercutting.
In Other Matters –
In 2013, the commissioners approved a clean energy policy that would require county government to reduce its carbon footprint by at least 2 percent per year until total fuel consumption gets down to 20 percent of its 2014 level. The county is now tracking ahead of schedule, with a 28-percent reduction easily within reach. It is projected building the solar farm, now out for bids, on the retired Woodfin landfill could knock another 18 percent off the total. So, the commissioners will consider at their August 15 meeting moving the county to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by June 20, 2027. In addition, the measure will call for the county to “support transitioning to 100 percent renewable for the larger community and country within twenty-five years and will actively support efforts to achieve that goal in Buncombe County.”
Dr. Katherine Houghton and Tyler Garrison, who had spoken at the last budget meeting on behalf of funding the Energy Innovation Task Force, returned to advocate for carbon-neutrality. Houghton, as before, cited statistics: The global temperature had risen 1.5oF over the last century, sea levels have risen 8 inches, forest fires and devastating hurricanes are becoming more prevalent, and all these problems are on accelerating trajectories. Then, perhaps trying to appeal to government logic, she said the technologies were resoundingly feasible because they are already creating millions of jobs. Garrison, again impassioned, pled for the welfare of future generations, saying saving the planet was the most important thing the commissioners could do.
Also speaking during public comment were several educators and representatives of the Asheville Art Museum, all wanting more money. The Art Museum had requested $500,000 this year, having received $225,000 last year. The commissioners approved only $100,000.
Receiving $51,171 in cash from the current year’s budget for economic development was Highland Brewing. The commissioners couldn’t help but thank Oscar Wong for being the upstanding community benefactor he is. Even Commissioner Joe Belcher commended him, but cast the lone opposing vote, because he didn’t think tax dollars should subsidize alcohol consumption.