Buncombe tax boost proposed as sales tax revenue growth slows (2024)

From Staff Reports

Buncombe County Manager Avril Pinder recommended a 2.55-cent tax increase for home and property owners, “which she said will amount to a 52.35 cent tax rate per $100 of assessed property for owners,” during a May 22 presentation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Asheville television station WLOS (News 13) reported on May 22.

High inflation, stagnant revenue growth from county tax revenues and uncertain economic times has led” Pinder “to instruct county department managers to hold steady on spending, and delay any expanded public services for Fiscal Year 2025, News 13 added.

“Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Buncombe County, said the recommended tax increase on a $350,000 home in Buncombe County would equate to around $89.25 for fiscal year 2025....

“Pinder explained (to the commmissioners) her process in working with department managers, who she instructed to keep budgets tight. Pinder said the budget includes a 4.89 percent cost of living raise for county employees.” News 13 noted.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet contacted Pinder on May 29 for further comment on her budget proposal —and she sent the following statement in response on May 31:

“When building a budget, we explore every option to ensure that we can deliver the services our community expects at the quality they deserve. Hard decisions had to be made and austere cuts were required, so we do believe this recommended budget is as fiscally responsible as possible. At the end of the day, our operating expansion was only 1 percent, and with that comes more ambulances, more paramedics, and more investment in public safety, which benefits all residents.”

In its request for a statement from the county manager, the Daily Planet included the following questions:

• What is her response to complaints that she is proposing to increase county property taxes by 2.55-cent per $100 valuation, instead of cutting costs, given that “times are so tough for those in the private sector?”

• What does she have to say to “county government critics who wonder about the wisdom in the hiring of yet another (third) assistant county manager, when taxpayers can barely afford groceries?”

• How would she address county government critics about “what they see as a complete disregard for cost-cutting and, instead, a rigid belief in spending yet more money to fix any problems the county encounters?”

In its coverage of the May 21 commissioners’ meeting, News 13 noted that Pinder “said her budget reflects a 1 percent increase in costs to run the county and that the way to balance the budget is to have a tax increase for property owners to cover costs.

“The recommended property tax increase will have a scheduled public hearing June 4th. Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides said property owners are already reaching out opposing a tax hike. He said there could be more conversation around trimming costs.”

The TV station then quoted Commissioner Al Whitsides as saying, “They want to make sure we’re running the most efficient operation we can. I hope what we’re seeing is a worst-case scenario. And, hopefully, we’re still looking at maybe we can trim in some areas.”

Further, News 13 noted, “Buncombe property taxes pay for 65 percent of the budget spending. Sales tax revenues, which have been declining, typically provide 11 percent of revenues for the budget. Overall growth for county coffers has been in decline.

“Pinder said 2024 revenue growth was 4 percent, and county staff report that growth was 5.4 percent in 2023 and 8 percent in 2022.

“During her presentation to county commissioners, Pinder discussed the ongoing challenges of funding increasing budgets for Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools, explaining that the county had been funding the entities beyond what the revenues coming in actually supported.

“‘For several years, we have been funding above and beyond that level,’ Pinder said. ‘The revenue growth did not show up to cover those expenditure increases we’ve done in prior years, so at this point, if you are going to do an additional increase (funding) to schools, you would need to have to cover that because we’ve been covering it in the past -- well above the revenue growth rate in the last five years or so.’”

What’s more, News 13 noted that “Pinder laid out 33 new positions in county government that she recommends, which includes two new case managers at the Family Justice Center to assist domestic violence victims navigating the court system with proceedings. Each of those positions would pay $54,558, as grant funding that covered those positions ended, Pinder said.

“Other new positions Pinder recommended were four staff members to oversee community assistance benefit programs, formerly managed by Eblen Charities. The contract was terminated and the proposal is to bring the program under the county umbrella. Pinder also recommended a new librarian position, as the county has 11 branches and there is increasing demand for digital and online services.

Buncombe tax boost proposed as sales tax revenue growth slows (2024)
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