Asheville – John Fulton was among the first to speak during public comment at the last Buncombe County Commissioners meeting. Rarely does anything said during this period appear to sway the views of the commissioners, and this wasn’t going to be one of those times either.
In part, he remarked, “I’ve seen many people come here to talk about disadvantages in their lives, so I wanted to remind people that many of us enjoy working hard and taking care of ourselves and our families, rather than learning to rely upon the government. I’ve joined this afternoon to let you know that I feel as though our county government is being run as a nonprofit charity. And I feel conservative values are completely dismissed by the county government here.
“I do not know whether you adequately assessed the potential impact that the recently-passed special considerations and the anti-discrimination ordinance will have on small business owners. I see nothing in that ordinance that gives any consideration to how small businesses can protect themselves from frivolous claims and resulting financial penalties. I do not know what kind of effort was put into fully assessing whether there was a real need for passage of that ordinance. So, I feel as though you passed an ordinance just because you could, rather than because it was truly needed.
“Conservatives believe in smaller government, not larger government. I’m an adult. I don’t need a government to tell me where I should go to the bathroom. I can figure that out.
“I was brought up to believe that I need to work harder than my competitors if I want to have nice things in my life. I was taught to find a good employer, providing good benefits, such as health insurance. I paid money into Social Security and Medicare to help ensure that I’m not a burden to others when I can no longer work and need assistance caring for myself. I cringe at the thought of Medicare for All, or Social Security for All. Those are insurance programs and investment programs that I’ve been paying into. That’s my money. It doesn’t belong to people who didn’t contribute.”
Fulton was not opposed to welfare or charity, just excesses. “I had to rely upon the WIC program to provide for my infant daughter for about six months when I was young and working in the fast-food industry. I often had to rely on my parents to provide me with groceries. None of that is true today. I help my daughter out when she needs assistance, but I try to take care of myself. I just wanted to remind people that many of us find there’s more gratitude in work than in relying upon the government,” Fulton said.
In Other Matters –
By way of the consent agenda, the commissioners approved changes to the county’s lease agreement with Duke Energy for the 5-megawatt solar farm planned for the retired Buncombe County Landfill in Woodfin. The farm, with renewable energy certificates (RECs), would reduce the county’s carbon footprint by 20 percent. Yet, Public Staff, the organization charged with advocating before the North Carolina Utilities Commission on behalf of ratepayers, rejected the proposal. They argued the plant was unnecessary, and it would not be fair to make Duke ratepayers across the state support a local project.
Originally, Duke was going to pay $700/acre in annual rent, and the county would purchase RECs for a penny apiece for the first five years, and one dollar apiece every year thereafter. These terms, of course, left the county an annual profit of a few thousand dollars, and Public Staff considered the REC discount unacceptable. The new terms would consider rent payment in market-value RECs an even swap. Public Staff approved, and the county liked the arrangement because it got to keep the RECs.
The two organizations giving the commissioners updates at this meeting were A-B Tech and Mountain Community Capital Fund (MCCF). Dr. John Gossett, A-B Tech’s new president, told what community college life was like during a pandemic: It was like summer. The school transitioned 95 percent of instruction online within two weeks of closure. In addition, it served as a testing and vaccination site staffed by nursing students, trained first responders, donated PPE, and even made hand sanitizer. Gossett hopes to return to in-person classrooms in the fall and promised to return to the commissioners the next week with funding requests.
MCCF was created by the county with Mountain BizWorks, Carolina Small Business, and the Self-Help Credit Union. Its purpose is to offer $5,000-$70,000 loans to entrepreneurs who either have insufficient collateral or bad credit. The organization currently has eight active loans totaling $290,499.62. These loans are 85 percent guaranteed, so they still have $203,075.32 unspent. According to chair Lynn Smith, however, the organization’s goal is to identify more financial backers.
During the brief term of Interim County Manager George Wood, commissioners spoke about grant cycles and getting the county’s allocation decisions more in sync; groups like Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO) kept coming in off-cycle with urgent, high-dollar requests. MHO recently requested $800,000 from the commissioners to support either one of two projects that could also receive low income housing tax credits. The application deadline was in May, and the county needs to back it to qualify. So, the commissioners agreed to exalt the MHO request to the front of the line, leaving just under ¾ of Affordable Housing Services Program funds available for others.