As we move into 2019 and reflect on 2018, Buncombe County celebrated many accomplishments that aligned with the Commissioners’ strategic priorities while promoting our wide array of services and resources. Here is a look back at some of our top stories.
Improvements to Buncombe County Public Library System
In December of 2017, Commissioners approved a budget amendment to use one-time available funding offset through savings from other capital projects to fund Enka library renovations. That renovation started in 2018 and will more than double the space at that library. Commissioners also approved funding for a new East Asheville Library. That project is scheduled to break ground later this year.
Quentin Miller sworn in as Sheriff on Dec. 3
On Nov. 6, 2018, Buncombe County elected Quentin Miller as its first African-American Sheriff. He was sworn in before a packed room at the Buncombe County Courthouse the following month. Miller served 11 years in the U.S. Army as an MP and retired from the Asheville Police Department with 25 years of service in July of 2018. Sheriff Miller prioritized community policing and de-escalation tactics during his campaign.
Buncombe County sees record election turnout
2018 was a record-breaking midterm election year. Buncombe County would normally see around 45-50 percent of registered voters show up in a midterm election, and we had approximately 60 percent turn out. The Buncombe County Board of Elections and Election Services work year-round to make sure the election runs smoothly and election workers are a key part of the equation. “We have about 200,000 registered voters. We can use as many as 500 election workers on Election Day and anywhere from 80-250 early voting workers. The numbers are huge,” stated Election Services Director Trena Parker. “Early voting workers go through an extensive week of training, at least 12 hours and sometimes 30-40 hours depending on their experience and the year. They are truly the stars of our election.”
By the numbers
- 119,798 voters
- 130 early voting workers
- 469 Election Day workers
- 35 in-office workers
- 92 voting sites (including both election day and early voting)
- 500+ voting booths
Advancements in Early Childhood Education
This year, Buncombe County funded classrooms at Christine W. Avery Learning Center and the YWCA. In October, Buncombe County Commissioners approved a resolution to create an Early Childhood Education and Development Fund. The resolution states the County will invest $3.6 million annually, beginning in the FY 2020 budget, and that the investment will increase by 2 percent in future years. The resolution states the funding will prioritize creating new childcare and Pre-K classrooms to serve more children; supporting affordable and quality care; implementing workforce development strategies to recruit and retain qualified teachers; supporting strategies for scaling up effective programs; and providing support services for children and families enrolled in those programs.
Buncombe Recreation Services Secures $12M in Funding for a New Enka Heritage Trail Greenway and Sports Park Improvements
A project that has been in the works for long time will bring improvements and enhancements to the Buncombe County Sports Park, helping to secure it as a recreation destination. The current price tag for the project is an estimated $12 million with Buncombe County subsidizing only $1.2 million. Greenway construction funding was secured with a $4.8 million grant awarded from the Federal Highway Administration’s Surface Transportation Block Grant Program. Announced at the end of October, the Tourism Development Authority awarded a $6 million grant to Buncombe Recreation Services for the project.
The backbone of the project, the Enka Heritage Trail, is a two-mile corridor that will create a major spoke of Buncombe County's Greenway system advancing one of the priority corridors featured in the 2012 Buncombe County Greenways Masterplan. The Enka Heritage Trail will also focus on protection and restoration along Hominy Creek to preserve a substantial section of native river cane.
The funding will also provide a number of exciting upgrades and enhancements for the Sports Park such a new lighting at Bob Lewis Sports Park. This will allow the County to maximize the space and create new opportunities for regional events.
Buncombe County Receives $1.75M from MacArthur Foundation for Justice Resource Support
On Oct. 24, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $1.75 million grant to Buncombe County’s Justice Resource Advisory Council to continue building on efforts to reform the local criminal justice system and safely reduce the county’s jail population. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $148 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
Nearly $1M Received from the U.S. Department of Justice for Future Programs
In September 2018, Buncombe County was awarded a $549,288 grant through the Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program that will allow for continuation of two specialized treatment courts: Drug Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court. Both courts are for high-need clients impacted by substance use disorders with misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges. And in October 2018, the Family Justice Center was awarded a $450,000 renewal grant from the Improving Criminal Justice Responses program to support front desk training and accessibility services for this one-stop center serving people impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
New Transfer Station Expansion Opens
In response to Buncombe County’s growing needs, we announced the opening of our Transfer Station expansion in late August. The new, 18,000-square-foot facility takes advantage of existing, old landfill property the County already owns adjacent to the current Transfer Station. There are a number of benefits the new addition will add including:
- Separate weigh stations for commercial haulers and the public.
- Six new drop-off lanes for commercial haulers will lower wait times and reduce truck and car idle times.
- New, larger trailers will reduce the amount of trips from the Transfer Station to the Landfill and lower traffic, time, and fuel costs.
- Gains in operational efficiencies.
- Create safer operations for the general public.
- Greater visibility in the waste screening process for identification of prohibited and dangerous waste materials.
- Allows for beneficial use of an expired landfill area.
Buncombe County Farmland Preservation Receives $400K to Protect Farmland and Promote Agricultural Enterprises
In July, the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund announced it awarded more than $4.6 million to help communities across the state protect farmland and promote agricultural enterprises. Conservation easements were obtained on 2,590 acres of land across the state through the grants.
Of the $4.6 million and 2,590 acres of land, Buncombe Soil and Water Conservation District received $198,650 to help put a perpetual conservation easement on an 85-acre farm in Sandy Mush and $268,950 to preserve a perpetual conservation easement on 135 acres of farm and forestland in Sandy Mush.
Farmland preservation serves an important role in Buncombe County to protect the agricultural community and farmland for future generations.
New Health and Human Services Building and Public Parking Garage at 40 Coxe Ave.
In February, a long-awaited addition to the existing HHS location and a new public parking garage opened to the public at 40 Coxe Ave. This project was initially identified as a capital need in 2014. The North Wing addition is now a space that supports accessible, coordinated, and efficient services with 96 percent of space dedicated to direct service.
During the planning process, the Commissioners were mindful of the County’s need to provide greater access to services in a single location as well as the community’s need for additional parking. The public parking garage will be open 24-7, year-round and will add parking for an additional 664 vehicles in downtown.
HHS continues to garner national accolades. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selected the County’s HHS and its partners to present on population health work in a presentation entitled “Utilizing the Collective Impact Model to Address Health Disparities.” Additionally, the USDA Food and Nutrition Services honored the County’s WIC Program with a Gold Level Loving Support Award.
New Dashboards Highlight Transparency
In 2018, the County made several changes that will aid in our commitment to accountability and transparency. The Board approved a new procurement manual, setting forth procedures that will serve the County’s needs and provide for effective, efficient, and economical buying practices. New dashboards were added to our transparency page, including an online checkbook. We continue to use technology to improve access to data for our community. We launched several new data portals for Permits & Inspections, Planning, Tax, and Environmental Health.
Also, our IT and Transportation departments partnered with Google Transit to roll out a new TrailBlazer Bus Finder on our Transportation page, making planning a trip with public transit easier.
Continued Growth in Aviation and Automotive Sectors
Buncombe County, through partnership with the City of Asheville, the Economic Development Coalition, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce supported efforts to strengthen the local economy. These efforts resulted in three new project announcements that will create more than 300 new jobs and $150 million in capital investment over the next five years. The projects include the relocation of Haakon Industries to Buncombe County and an expansion of the existing GE Aviation and Reich Automotive plants.