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Commissioners Talk Priorities, Community Needs at Budget Workshop

Buncombe County Commissioners are beginning the months-long process of planning a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. On Dec. 9, Commissioners gathered at A-B Tech to listen to staff presentations, identify priorities, discuss community needs, and start creating the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget, which runs from July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023. At the heart of the next spending plan are goals outlined in the 2025 Strategic Plan focused on the following areas:

Kicking off the planning session, Commissioners received briefings on past data and future forecasts concerning budget-related variables such as unemployment, consumer spending, sales and property tax collection rates, and inflation. Additionally, staff made presentations on factors that will affect the upcoming budget such as:

  • Additional financial expansions for FY23: While dollar amounts are not set, the following are some programs and resources proposed to have higher allocations for the upcoming budget year: 911 consolidation, affordable housing, conservation easements, early childhood education, emergency services expansion, greenways, homeowner assistance grants, and library maintenance.
  • Staffing outlook: Buncombe County is committed to being an employer of choice. In order to do so, it needs to fund salary packages at competitive rates.
  • Capital projects update: The FY23 budget year will be primarily focused on renovation and repair and could feature projects such as South Buncombe Library parking expansion, General Services building upgrade, and elevator repairs at 200 College St.
  • Grants overview: A major component of creating a budget is having an understanding of the overview of grant money coming in, grant-funded positions, and grants that will be expiring. Six of the County’s larger grants will be expiring in FY23 representing about 14 positions. Many of these grants are historically renewed, but Commissioners will take into consideration that might not be the case and potentially budget to keep or expire those jobs.

Community survey update

Buncombe County is currently in the process of gathering feedback through a community survey. As more robust results become available, the data could affect Commissioners’ budget priorities. At this point data is preliminary, but its goal is to identify service areas the community would like to see sustained and improved. Based on that information and recommendations from the survey consultant, Commissioners could increase funding to various departments. More detailed results are expected in early 2022.

Committee updates

Various committees make funding recommendations to Commissioners in regard to programs and resources or the need for additional staff to achieve strategic priority goals. The following committees gave brief presentations about their past work and future goals.

  • Early Childhood Committee: For FY23, the committee is looking to increase enrollment slots and quality, develop a larger early childcare workforce, and enhance the overall effectiveness of care and education. Commissioners are already committed to a 2% increase to the Early Childhood Fund based on previous funding agreements.
  • Environmental and Energy Stewardship Subcommittee: Future goals include examining opportunities to improve water quality, increase renewable energy transportation, conserve more land, build climate resiliency, and finance clean energy projects on a commercial scale.
  • Affordable Housing Committee: Its goal is to provide 2,800 new affordable housing units by 2030 by increasing access to rental and ownership opportunities, especially for homeless and BIPOC populations. There will also be a focus on providing repair resources for existing homeowners and evaluating how County-owned property can be leveraged for affordable housing opportunities.

Community Center Funding

County staff sees our community centers portfolio as a missed opportunity to better engage our community and offer County services at these locations. Buncombe County wants to evaluate the need for repairs and maintenance at four County-owned facilities while helping some 30 privately owned community centers with grant funding. Ultimately, the County needs to evaluate the state of these facilities and what programming needs they have with a goal of better utilizing these locations as community engagement infrastructure. As the budget process continues, Commissioners will give a close look at the needs and funding that might be allocated toward community centers.

Identifying priorities

To wrap up the budget retreat, Commissioners went around the room identifying their top priorities for FY23. The following are the items listed.

  • Hire a lobbyist for the next North Carolina General Assembly session
  • Funding for affordable housing
  • Universal pre-K
  • How to use opioid settlement funding
  • Funding paid apprenticeships to help get high school students into paramedic jobs
  • Climate and environment protection and renewable energy
  • Reliable funding for sidewalks and bike lanes
  • Broadband internet access
  • Tax relief for the elderly via homestead tax exemptions
  • Investing in community centers
  • Job training and apprenticeship programs for minorities
  • Reliable funding for museums and cultural resources
  • Filling County staffing vacancies and building up emergency services personnel
  • Bolstering natural disaster response capabilities

Next, each Commissioner voted for their top priorities, and the following emerged as the top five issues:

  1. Affordable housing
  2. Climate and environmental solutions
  3. Apprenticeships for paramedics and minorities
  4. Universal Pre-K funding
  5. Broadband internet access

Throughout 2022, Commissioners will have a series of public work sessions as they continue to work on the fiscal year 2023 budget. A public hearing will be held before final approval of the spending plan, which must be approved by June 30, 2022.

You can read more about last year’s approved budget and find budget resources and dashboards here.

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Updated Dec 17, 2021 09:05 AM
Published Dec 09, 2021 04:54 PM

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