Pressure on Buncombe County government to raise taxes or cut as savings projected to dip (2024)

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Pressure on Buncombe County government to raise taxes or cut as savings projected to dip (1)

ASHEVILLE - Buncombe County residents − including those in Asheville and other municipalities − could face tax increases, cuts in planned services, or both, based on the latest projections reviewed by county leaders April 23.

Current projections show Buncombe County, which provides services to all county residents, including those in municipalities, is set to dip deeply into its savings if there is no tax increase or reduction in planned spending, according to figures presented by Budget Director John Hudson at a Board of Commissioners work session.

To fund spending increases in this fiscal year's $425 million general fund, such as $6.6 million more for education, including pre-kindergarten, and $7.1 million more for public safety, the county is dipping into its savings, called the fund balance, withdrawing $9.4 million.

Next fiscal year, which starts July 1, the general fund is projected to grow almost 5% to $445 million. The county would need to take out another $29 million from savings to pay for that without raising taxes, Hudson said.

"We have been balancing the budget with appropriated fund balance. At some point that is no longer sustainable," Hudson told commissioners.

Taking the nearly $29 million from the fund balance next year would leave the county's savings at 10.8% of the general fund. That is below the 15% set by a county policy that meant to ensure there are emergency funds. Taking from savings would be one way to avoid a tax increase or cuts to programs or other spending, but it would require a budgetary reckoning the next year, said county spokesperson Lillian Govus.

"We have to make it up the following year," Govus said of the county policy mandating the fund balance minimum.

The current tax rate is 49.8 cents per $100 in assessed value, meaning the owner of a $300,000 home pays $1,494 in county property taxes. The county is planning to reassess all properties on Jan. 1, 2025, a once-every-four-years occurrence. This time it comes after a series of stories by the Citizen Times showing that high-end mansions are very often under-assessed and therefore get a break on tax bills. Following the news coverage, County Assessor Keith Miller has made changes that he said will make assessments more fair.

Residents of Asheville, other municipalities and those living in rural fire fighting districts pay additional property taxes.

Property taxes are the single biggest contributor to the general fund and are estimated to generate nearly $268 million next fiscal year. The remaining $149 million comes from sales taxes, transfers from state and federal government and other sources. The general fund is the largest part of the total budget, which has currently reached more than $600 million. That includes pass-through special funds, such as hotel tax collected and redistributed to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, as well as enterprise funds, such as the $15.7 million solid waste fund that gets landfill fees and other revenues.

Commissioner Parker Sloan, whose District 3 covers the county's southwest, asked how reliable some of the trends were.

"I don't know what the economy is doing right now," Sloan said.

"It's behaving very strangely," replied Hudson.

Commissioners are still a couple of months out from the deadline to approve a final budget by June 30. A public hearing is currently scheduled for June 4 with a vote June 18.

Proposals for next year's budget included new 45 positions in the Division of Social Services, Libraries, Sheriff’s Office, Family Justice Center and other departments. That number was reduced to 33 after a first review of the budget on March 26. It's not clear if there will be a further reduction. Three of those positions are requested in Solid Waste Services but would not be paid by the general fund and would instead by paid from landfill fees and other solid waste charges.

Also called for was a cost-of-living adjustment for employees of 4.89%.

Some assumptions in the county's financial outlook:


  • 49.8¢propertytaxrate.
  • Reappraisalgrowth in property tax base in FY26 and natural growth in FY27.
  • 4.5% and 5% growth in sales tax in FY26 and FY27, respectively.
  • Otherrevenues:3%to8%annualgrowth(variesby source).


  • 9%growthinexpendituresin FY26and5%growthinFY27

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Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter@AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with asubscriptionto the Citizen Times.

Pressure on Buncombe County government to raise taxes or cut as savings projected to dip (2024)
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