Should Voters Vote 'Yes' on $70M in Bond as Recession Looms? - TribPapers

Should Voters Vote ‘Yes’ on $70M in Bond as Recession Looms?

Vote Yes or No. Graphic submitted.

Buncombe County – Buncombe County has two bond referendums on the ballot for this November. One is for the taxpayers to borrow $30 million in support of open space conservation, which includes farmland, natural landscapes, water quality, trails, and greenways. Another $40 million bond will go to increase the number of housing units for people of low to moderate income in Buncombe County. The two together will leave the county on the hook for $70 million in bonds to be paid back over 20 years. 

According to Marc Hunt with “Better with Bonds/Buncombe Votes Yes,” the $30 million bonds will, in part, go to preserve another 1.5 percent of Buncombe’s 420,480 total land acreage, giving the county 20 percent, or 84,096 acres, in conservation easements which can never be developed. So to achieve this goal by 2030, as they hope, another 6,036 acres must be brought into a conservancy easement. A conservancy easement is where a landowner sells the right to develop their property for a percentage of the land’s value. (See related article page 1)

The $40 million bond would go to 2,800–3,150 additional affordable housing units by 2030, with part going for rental apartments and the other toward support of homeownership of about 1,200 units. One only has to look at the median price of a home in Buncombe at nearly $500,000 to understand that affordable housing is becoming as scarce as hens’ teeth.

Hunt recognizes that the Buncombe County government suffers from a lack of credibility.After taxpayers have seen two county managers and other county leaders undergo federal indictments and convictions for mishandling taxpayers’ money, what could be worse than borrowing $70 million only to have it squandered by more rogues with suits and ties or big government titles?

Therefore, Hunt included a slide in his presentation on oversight and transparency of the bond money. Independent audit by an external firm; review by an internal auditor; and reports to advisory boards and the Board of Commissioners, along with a webpage dedicated to the transparency of bond investments and programs, are what Hunt’s group hopes will satisfy voters that the money will go to what the group claims it will.

It seems those county leaders already convicted of taking advantage of the system and county money also had the same safeguards to stop any hanky-panky funny business with county money, but we see it did no good.

Hunt says that the money will help to leverage more money. He said the Town of Woodfin should endorse the bonds and asked the board to allow Hunt’s group to use the town’s name on the website and elsewhere and “share as willing on social media channels,” along with adopting a resolution backing the passage of the bonds. 

He claims borrowing the $70 million has been determined by Buncombe County so that it will not raise taxes. Tell that to Woodfin residents. Woodfin borrowed only $4.1 million in bonds for their greenway and had to increase their property taxes by five cents per $100 of value. If Buncombe County had to follow Woodfin’s lead to pay for the bonds, property owners would have to increase property taxes by about 85 cents per $100 of land value. 

I don’t buy what Hunt’s group is selling. Do taxpayers want to take the risk of borrowing all of this money? Particularly for another percent and a half of land conservation payments to private landholders and the construction of more rental housing for private or public landlords to reap the benefits for years to come while taxpayers foot the bill.

It seems to me that the taxpayers are being asked to pay to increase and subsidize private ownership of landholders, landlords, and would-be homeowners, all the while giving a good amount to government or non-profits to make the aforementioned possible, all in the face of a county government that has already proven not to be trusted with taxpayers’ money. Voters should be asking themselves, “Is that what we really want to do?”