At the regular meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on December 5th, 2017, the Commissioners passed a resolution of Buncombe County’s commitment to strategic, sustainable priorities. These priorities are intended to complement the County’s current Sustainability Plan. As we address the issues that are facing our communities today, the Commissioners are dedicated to strengthening the quality of life for everyone by setting new fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible goals that will guide decisions and improve our community for future generations. Moving forward these strategic priorities will set the direction and serve as a guide to shape partnerships and investments of resources intended to insure a healthy, safe, well-educated, thriving and sustainable community.
Priorities and goals were put forward in a workshop and passed by resolution (attached below) at the meeting.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: OPIOID ADDICTION
The United States has 4.6 % of the world’s population, yet we use 80% of the world’s opioids. In Buncombe County alone there were over 17 million painkillers prescribed in 2016 equaling almost 68 pills for every man, woman, and child in the county. From January to August 2017, there were 230 opioid overdose emergency department visits in Buncombe County. Today in North Carolina, you are more likely to die from an overdose than a car crash. Some opioids are prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, codeine cough syrup, Percocet, or Vicodin. Other opioids, like heroin and fentanyl, are illegal drugs. Addiction to opioids is a public health crisis with costs to families, neighborhoods and the community.
PRIORITY: to stem the disease of opioid addiction, a crisis that threatens the health and safety of growing numbers of people in our community.
- Increase public awareness about the disease of opioid addiction and ways that the community can be a part of the solution
- Equip professionals and the public with the information and tools for prevention and response with a focus on youth prevention
- Limit the supply of prescription painkillers and illegal opioids in the community and hold the industry accountable that made the epidemic possible
- Increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment services
- Respond and follow-up when overdoses occur to reduce harm and increase wellness.
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: CLEAN AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
Buncombe County controls 86 facilities, comprising more than 2 million square feet, and annual utilities cost approximately $1.87 million. In addition, the County maintains a fleet of more than 450 vehicles with approximately $550,000 a year in fuel costs. In 2013, Buncombe County established a goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 80% to be achieved at a rate of 2% a year. A 2014 energy audit identified 26 energy reduction measures that when fully implemented can create both energy cost savings and reduction in emissions. Greater utilization of renewable energy improves air quality and water quality, reduces emissions that harm public health, reduces dependence on foreign sources of energy, and creates jobs.
Implement the best fiscally and environmentally responsible energy solutions to reach the goal of 100% renewable energy sources for Buncombe County’s government’s operations by 2030 and for Buncombe County within 25 years, while helping to educate, equip and move our community toward practical renewable energy solutions.
- Reduce cost and lower emissions by improving the energy efficiency of Buncombe County facilities and fleet
- Promote renewable energy projects and utilize renewable energy sources such as solar and wind where feasible for Buncombe County facilities and fleet
- Foster environmental sustainability within the community through education, resources and programs for the public and community partners
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: JUSTICE RESOURCE SUPPORT
Buncombe County Detention Facility housed more than 7,500 people in 2016, and more than 70% of the 13,000 bookings were for low-level, non-violent offenses. In addition, over 670 people return to Buncombe County each year after a period of incarceration in a North Carolina state prison. 51 jail beds a day are occupied by individuals receiving treatment for a serious mental illness, and early 800 inmates were monitored for substance withdrawal in 2016 (a nearly 30% increase from 2015). Women are the fastest growing population in local jail – up nearly 30% from 2015 to 2016. Nationally, 95% of women who have been incarcerated have a trauma history. Involvement in the criminal justice system can have lifelong impacts for individuals and their families, including barriers to accessing housing, employment, education and financial assistance. In Buncombe County in 2016, African Americans were 5.6% of the general population yet made up 28% of those jailed in the local detention facility. It is estimated that there are over 3,400 domestic violence victimizations in Buncombe County each year and over 670 people seek services for sexual assault.
Coordinate a justice system that is efficient, effective, equitable and protects our public safety while holistically addressing the needs of people involved in the system.
- Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system
- Focus on law enforcement approaches informed by best practices for serving people impacted by mental illness, addiction, homelessness, poverty, and trauma
- Offer diversion and alternatives to incarceration for low-level, first-time nonviolent offenders and people with mental illness and substance use disorders
- Maximize community based pretrial justice solutions while prioritizing safety and offender accountability
- Support people who are incarcerated and re-entering the community from incarceration
- Offer trauma informed support for victims of crime, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
The period in a child’s life from birth to kindergarten is approximately 2,000 days, and that formative period is critical for development for lifelong health and success. Studies show that high quality early development experiences position children to enter school ready to succeed, graduate from high school and grow into thriving adults. In particular, high quality pre-k programs are proven to provide measurable short and long-term results for children and their peers, families and communities. Yet access to early childhood education is limited based on availability and affordability. Programs maintain long wait lists, and it is difficult for providers to cover the costs of high quality care and difficult for families to afford it. At-risk families face additional barriers such as low income, educational attainment, complex behavioral and health care needs, individual/family/community trauma, and fragmented support systems. Funding early childhood education is a complex and fragile mix of federal, state and local government funding, philanthropy and fees. In addition, there is a shortage of highly trained and qualified teachers and staff.
Ensure that every child in Buncombe County has an equal opportunity to thrive during their first 2,000 days including access to quality early childhood education.
- Collaborate with community leaders and stakeholders for a coordinated system approach
- Increase the availability of high quality early childhood care and education with an emphasis on pre-kindergarten programs
- Address issues of affordability, both for providers in a sustainable business model and for families in access to care
- Support a robust career track in the field of early education, with development ladders from entry level to highly educated, credentialed, seasoned professionals
- Cultivate a system that responds to the needs of families, such as those impacted by trauma, poverty and addiction
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: AFFORDABLE HOUSING
There is a limited supply of housing in Buncombe County, as indicated by an overall multifamily rental supply occupancy rate for 2017 of more than 97%. The occupancy rate among affordable rentals such as tax credit and government-subsidized housing remains near 100% with high demand and long wait lists. Median rent in Buncombe County was among the highest in North Carolina in 2015 – Combined with stagnant wages, this causes an overburden on housing costs. Many people face barriers to housing, such as low wages and credit or criminal history. Of the 2,197 eviction filings in Buncombe County in 2016, 80% were related to nonpayment of rent. Subsidized housing options are limited, usually with long waiting lists, and subsidy is difficult to use. 50% of Section 8 Housing vouchers expire because lack of available rental units. In addition, Buncombe County experiences disparities in housing with 65% of people who are white that own a home in comparison with 41% of people who are black. Homelessness is also an ongoing challenge - an estimated 562 people are homeless in Buncombe County in 2017, including 167 people who are chronically homeless.
PRIORITY: Ensure comprehensive opportunities for affordable and safe housing as a foundation for healthy and thriving families and neighborhoods.
- Preserve and increase the stock of affordable housing including rental developments
- Reduce substandard housing and expand opportunities for home repair
- Support home ownership initiatives, including savings and credit building
- Address the issues of homelessness in Buncombe County through partnership with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative
BUNCOMBE COUNTY STRATEGIC PRIORITY: DIVERSE COMMUNITY WORKFORCE
Employment rates in Buncombe County are strong overall, at 3.4% as of July 2017 which is lower than state and national averages. Yet per capita income and average annual wage in Buncombe County is lower than the average in North Carolina and United States. While job growth has continued year over year, lower wage industries are leading growth so wages and income are lagging or stagnant. The growth that consists of a small high-income group in Buncombe County is outpacing the state and national average. The number of people at the low end of the income spectrum is also on the rise. Disparities are pronounced in Buncombe County – African Americans have lower average monthly earnings and household incomes than white counterparts, are disproportionately impacted by poverty and unemployment, and own fewer businesses.
PRIORITY: Cultivate a robust, inclusive local economy with a diverse workforce and pipelines to jobs and education for all.
- Leverage economic development policy to broaden and diversify the development of new and expanded businesses and industries
- Invest in neighborhood and community-based jobs and education initiatives
- Engage in partnerships for innovative workforce models such as worker owned co-ops, apprenticeships and job skills training
- Support small business development with emphasis on historically underserved populations
- Implement practices for recruiting and maintaining a diverse, qualified workforce of Buncombe County employees