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Fallout from hard times? It’s ‘horrific,’ official says
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 16:53


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The Council of Independence Business Owners on June 1 heard presentations on the proposed Buncombe County budget, on food security in Asheville and Buncombe and on the formation of a neighborhood advisory committee for Asheville.

The addresses were featured during a CIBO Issues Meeting that followed an early-morning breakfast buffet in the food court at Biltmore Square Mall in West Asheville. About 50 people — mostly business-owners — attended, as well as a number of political candidates and local officials.

After each talk, CIBO members questioned the speakers, sometimes expressing sharp disagreement with their ideas.

County Manager Wanda Greene, who led off the hour-long program, said that, before the recession, the county issued $12 million in food stamps. That total reached a high of $70 million a few years ago and “has leveled off” to about $58 million, she noted. 

“While things are improving, we’re still not out of the woods,” insofar as the local economy is concerned, Greene said. “We are dealing with horrific, horrific adult- and child-abuse cases,” in terms of their volume and intensity.

“I want to emphasize that we have “really dedicated (DSS) staff and they do a really good job, considering the case load,” Greene said.

On a separate matter, she noted that “there is very little change” in the new Buncombe budget — “it’s up 1 percent over 2012.”

She also said that the revenue streams for the county budget leaves the county with limited options.

The property, intergovernmental and sales taxes represent about 80 percent of Buncombe’s revenue stream, Greene said, while human services, education and public safety account for about 82 percent of expenses.

The county did record an 0.8 percent increase in sales tax revenue, she noted, adding that “we had the second lowest tax rate of the nine other urban counties” in the state. “At out existing tax rate, we’ve met most of the needs.” Greene asserted, “We do a really good job of collecting property taxes,” especially relative to the other urban North Carolina counties.

“We’ve done all this with fewer employees than we’ve had in 20 years” by contracting services to private companies. “We’re 1,420 employees today,” handling a heavy workload that includes the Department of Social Services and the sheriff’s office.

She said a public hearing would be held on the proposed county budget on June 4 and that a “reappraisal/revaluation (of real estate) is underway. We will have those values on Jan. 1, 2013 ... The really high-end homes still have not reach bottom. The under $200,000 to $300,0000 homes — we’re seeing a bottom.”

During a question-and-answer period that followed, Greene said the local economy has “been pretty bad for the last four years ... We had a 28 percent increase in (real estate) value before this. We won’t see that again.”

In response to a question about the trend in the DSS caseload, Greene said, “We carry a 500 average caseload. We’re seeing some slowing of growth, but not reduction.”

Asheville City Attorney Albert L. Sneed Jr. expressed his gratitude to Greene for the addition of the new elevators at the county courthouse. “For those who have pushed into those (old) courthouse elevators for 40 years, thanks for the new elevators ... The ‘grabbiness’ factor has been reduced.”






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