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Commissioners Weigh Budget Requests from School & Fire Districts Ahead of June Budget Approval

Updated May 22 with County Manager Avril Pinder's recommended budget. Click here or see attachment below.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners held its last planned budget work session on May 9. During that time, Commissioners heard requests from school systems and fire districts for Fiscal Year 2025, which runs from July 1, 2024-June 20, 2025. As the budget picture starts to come more into focus, some priorities are shifting as revenues are not where they had originally been projected. The County, like your own household, must measure what to spend versus how to pay for it, and that means making some difficult choices.

No decisions or funding approvals were made during this budget workshop, and the FY25 budget will not be adopted until June.

Fire district tax rates

Buncombe County consists of 20 fire districts and two of those are asking for a tax increase. Fairview and North Buncombe fire districts are citing facility repairs, engine purchases and repairs, and increased staffing as reasons for needing additional revenue. Both Fairview and North Buncombe fire districts are asking for 1.5-cent tax increases. As of now, County staff is recommending approval of both requests. You can see all the current and proposed fire district tax rates below.

School districts

Per state law, the County is obligated to cover facility requirements and local current expense funds that help with operations, salary supplements, and other expenses. During the work session, Asheville City and Buncombe County school districts, along with A-B Tech Community College, presented their funding requests for the first time.

Buncombe County Schools (BCS) is asking for an increase of $13.4 million from the previous year, which would bring the total funding request to $109 million for FY25. The following is a breakdown of the increased funding request from documents provided by BCS:

  • State-legislated salary increase for locally funded staff: $3,330,825
  • Increase for immutable costs: $680,760
  • Maintain all services: $5,011,368
  • Multilingual learners service and support: $2,007,500
  • Increase hours for exceptional children assistants $986,261
  • Request for additional assistant principals, counselors, and social workers: $1,459,042

Asheville City Schools (ACS) is projecting a potential shortfall of $5.7 million due to decreased enrollment, expiration of previous funding sources, and other issues paired with an increase in costs for insurance, salaries, and other expenses. The district is asking for an increase in the Asheville City Schools Local Supplement Tax increase of 1.38 cents, which would move the tax rate from 10.62 to 12 cents. This would produce an estimated additional $1.57 million in funding, according to documents from ACS. Additionally, the district is asking for an increase of $3.8 million from the previous year, which would be a total funding request of $21.5 million for FY25 and does not include any revenue from the proposed district tax increase.

A-B Tech is considering two funding scenarios due to a potential increase upward of 20% in custodial costs, salary increases, and other factors. Based on those scenarios, the college is asking for a total of either $8.4 million or $8.7 million. That would represent an increase of either $286,000, which is currently in the FY25 Second Pass budget, or $586,026 from the previous year.

Education funding has yet to be finalized and no additional funding for K-12 education is currently in the FY25 Second Pass budget. County staff will work with Commissioners on the requests as the proposed budget continues to take shape.

Community investments

Commissioners are committed to continuing the advancement of their strategic priorities though grants and other funding sources. You can see a summary of the current proposed community investments below:

FY25 budget strategies

As Commissioners face a revenue shortfall, staff surveyed other counties across North Carolina to find additional strategies for balancing the budget. The following strategies have been deployed:

  • Personnel strategies
    • Reduced requested new positions from 133 to 33 and staggered start dates for those positions
    • Reduced salary budget to account for potential vacancies and turnover
  • Deferring capital
    • Reduce pay-go funding by postponing projects and exploring existing project budgets
    • Utilize debt funding where possible
    • Lease general government vehicles instead of making cash purchases

Other potential ways to help balance the budget include:

  • Personnel strategies
    • Lowering the employee cost-of-living-adjustment rate from 4.89% to 4.32% or 4%
  • Increasing the tax rate

Commissioners have also asked staff to look at various options to help balance the budget, including using bond funding to help reduce the annual allocation to the Affordable Housing Fund. "I'm open to the idea of a reduction to the annual appropriation to the Affordable Housing Services Program. But if we're going to do that, I think we need to be able to say to the community that we're not reducing our commitment to affordable housing. In fact, we're significantly increasing it. We're just replacing it with a scalable financing strategy to do that," noted Commissioner Chair Brownie Newman.

Commissioners have not decided about the cost-of-living-adjustment rate for employees. “I really think there can be value and benefit looking at compensation and where we are trying to get to in the next several years… I think a long-term budget plan for what we invest in compensation for public employees would be valuable,” said Newman. “It would give school systems more predictability and employees more certainty about what will happen… when doing this on a 12-month basis, it’s much harder to see where we want to get. Once we get through this budget process, there might be space for those discussions.”

Commissioners expressed interest in working with staff on additional ways to help balance the budget. “I want to be sure we're being as fiscally responsible as we possibly can before we ask thousands of homeowners and property owners to bear the brunt of this for Buncombe County,” exclaimed Commissioner Amanda Edwards.

The following are some of those additional options staff will be exploring with Commissioners that would help save about $5.3 million (Please note that all recommendations except for ARPA are intended to be one-time FY25 pauses in funding):

Next steps

Commissioners will receive a recommended budget with the County Manager’s message on May 21. A public hearing on the proposed spending plan is set for June 4 with a vote to adopt the FY25 budget slated for June 18. You can watch those meetings live on the County’s Facebook page.

Table: News Item Documents
File NameSizeTypeDate & Time Added
County Manager Recommended Budget 1 MB 05/22/2024 7:41 AM

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Updated May 22, 2024 01:37 PM
Published May 09, 2024 02:44 PM

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