Buncombe County Bonds? This is What I was Talking About - TribPapers

Buncombe County Bonds? This is What I was Talking About

How the county voted on the bond issues by precincts. Screenshots of Buncombe County Board of Election Website.

Buncombe County – A few months ago, I wrote a commentary against supporting the bonds for Buncombe County, which were up for a vote in the November election. Apparently, a majority did not agree with my position, since both bond referendums passed by comfortable margins.

The Open Spaces Bond of $30 million was the more popular of the two referendums, garnering nearly 69% of the vote, while the $40 million bond for low-income housing only got about 62% of the vote. Still, they passed with cozy margins.

So specifically, the $40 million bond is to increase the number of housing units for people of low to moderate income in Buncombe County. The $30 million bond will, in part, go to private landholders 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 that can never be developed. The two together will leave the county on the hook for $70 million in bonds to be paid back over 20 years, with the money going to private contractors and landowners.

What was my reasoning for voting against these bonds?

Well, what I said is, “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 and/or public landlords to reap the benefits for years to come while taxpayers foot the bill.”
I also said, “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.”

Well, the Tribune’s front page news article from last week, “City of Asheville Diverts Funds Meant for the Poor,” is the kind of tomfoolery of which I was speaking when I wrote the commentary, not to give these elected officials power over more money. 

If you missed that article, it’s worth going online to read (https://tribpapers.com/archive/2022/11/civic/city-of-asheville-diverts-funds-meant-for-the-poor/51355/). Briefly quoting, the city “diverted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars intended for legal aid for the poor to a private group connected to [Asheville’s] Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith, according to WNC Citizens for Equality, a local watchdog group. The majority of the money then vanished into the hands of unidentified people as cash rewards.”

They basically went against state law after a lawsuit was settled and took the money that was not used and gave it to CoThinkk, which was selected “by Councilwoman Smith as the beneficiary of the class action monies, the council decided to give the organization a gift of $474,592.56.”

While this was the Asheville City Government’s doing and not the county’s, I’m not naive enough to believe this isn’t the kind of thing the county’s elected officials might get involved in also.

Voters have given $70 million to the county to spend under the assumption they will do what they are supposed to do. How many private landholders who will receive this money are buddies of the commissioners who will distribute this money out to conservation land groups who will also be beholden to the commissioners? Then the landholders and conservation groups turn around and donate some money to someone’s re-election campaign? How many of the contractors will do the same?

Don’t think the county officials are not capable of such misbehavior. Remember Wanda Greene? According to WLOS this month, former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene pleaded guilty “to one charge in each of the four schemes, which included one count of federal program fraud in the first indictment.”

She pleaded guilty to one count of federal program fraud and one count of money laundering in the second indictment and superseding indictment, which dealt with multiple tax frauds, and one count of receipt of bribes and kickbacks, aiding and abetting, in the third indictment.” She is meeting with the county attorney to “answer their questions and provide documents.” 

In a separate lawsuit by the county in which they are trying to recoup money from Greene, her lawyer said in another WLOS article, “…his client is not responsible for 100 percent of what’s set forth in the county’s complaint… Greene claims she did not act alone. She says two former high-ranking county employees acted ‘in concert’ with her to mislead commissioners and outside auditors as it relates to presenting life insurance policy information.”

The problem with this money is that it will all appear legal and above board, but these are the types of shenanigans I was referring to.