Henderson County’s Board of Commissioners spent almost the whole day Wednesday in a budget retreat, discussing how to spend the taxpayer’s money this year.
The commissioners will likely be putting a one-quarter cent sales tax on the ballot for local voters this spring…with the two to two and a half million dollars in revenue the tax will generate to be committed to local public schools. At the commissioner's budget meeting on Wednesday, county school officials asked the commissioners to restore the one to one and half million dollars that county schools lost last year in the county’s across-the-board seven and a one half per cent budget cuts. Commissioners will have no way to increase money for the schools without either dipping further into reserves or raising property taxes…so the general consensus Wednesday was to pursue putting the sales tax increase on the ballot…to let voters decide. An increase in the local sales tax, specifically for local schools, has failed in referendums twice before in recent years.
Commissioners also were told Wednesday that no mis-use of county money was found in that independent audit of sheriff’s department finances. The audit was ordered late last year by the commissioners after issues arose concerning Sheriff Davis and an alleged sexual harassment suit, a $5,000 insurance deductible paid by the county in that matter, and Sheriff Rick Davis’s claims that he is now being treated for manic bipolar disorder and is seeking medical retirement. The Asheville newspaper recently reported that Davis charged over twenty thousand dollars on a county credit card, in a number of cities and at lavish bars and restaurants. County manager Steve Wyatt ask for and got, from commissioners Wednesday, instructions to monitor county credit card purchases more closely on a monthly basis; instructions to narrow the purpose and use of county credit cards, and for instructions to further strengthen internal controls over county credit cards.
Pardee Hospital CEO Jay Kirby presented the commissioners Wednesday with a “memorandum of understanding” on the new out-patient facility Pardee plans to construct and operate jointly with Mission Hospitals on the Henderson-Buncombe County line in Fletcher. The commissioners had earlier asked for assurance that Pardee would be a fully equal partner with Mission and that the land involved would be jointly owned. That memorandum of understanding outlines those assurances…and it will now be presented to the full hospital board of directors next week as Pardee and Mission move forward with the roughly $40 million facility.
In their budget retreat Wednesday in the Historic Courthouse, commissioners also discussed moving forward this year with a park in Tuxedo where the old Tuxedo Mill used to be…and with a new library in the Town of Fletcher.
Commissioners are also discussing pay raises for county employees this year…most seemed to support a cost of living increase; Commissioner Bill O’Connor said he favors merit raises.
O’Connor also suggested privatizing some county departments or functions and suggested a goal of seven this year. Commissioner Charlie Messer convinced other commissioners to drop the goal of seven.
Commissioners are also considering a possible tax district as a means of providing additional money for the County Rescue Squad.
And commissioners decided to move forward Wednesday with an almost $100,000 thousand study into the county’s wastewater needs especially in northern Henderson County…which could lead to the construction of an all new wastewater treatment plant. A steering committee to move this forward will include representatives also from the Towns of Mills River and Fletcher.
The commissioners on Wednesday seemed committed to no property tax increases this year, to balancing the county’s budget, and to no further dipping into the county’s reserves.
By WHKP News Director Larry Freeman
January 18, 2012 6pm