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A-B Tech wants its tax funds
Thursday, 06 December 2018 16:58

From Staff Reports

Leaders at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College have taken new — and formal — steps to find out how spent millions in sales tax dollars that were meant for the school instead were spent by Buncombe County.

Specifically, A-B Tech’s Board of Trustees is asking — through a public records request for detailed figures on the school’s sales tax — for a full accounting of $15 million earmarked for new construction at A-B Tech.

In August, the board sent a letter to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners asking for the same information, but never got a response. This is a second try.

The A-B Tech money in question is from a quarter-cent sales tax — narrowly approved by voters seven years ago. Only a portion of the funds have been allocated to the school. 

“I think the first thing we’ve got to do is get the definitive numbers on how the money has been used thus far,” A-B Tech President Dennis King said on Nov. 14, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

“I feel that we have a solid relationship with the county. I feel this is a bump in the road. It will be resolved, and I believe it will be resolved to our favor,” King told the ACT.

Meanwhile, Asheville television station WLOS News 13 reported in mid-November that it had obtained a copy of that letter the A-B Tech trustees sent to commissioners’ Chairman Brownie Newman.

In the letter, the board “asked Newman for details about whether the sales tax funds reserved for capital improvements were instead used to pay off any county debt or outstanding loan,” WLOS noted. “They also want itemized details on all proceeds that have been allocated or spent on items unrelated to A-B Tech.

“The letter goes on to ask for copies of all official county board of commissioners action approving such expenditures.

“The board chair and A-B Tech president were unavailable for comment,” WLOS reported in mid-November.

State law does not require that the money be allocated to A-B Tech, but in campaign promises prior to a referendum put before local voters (which narrowly passed) both county and college leaders promised the money would go toward new construction projects at the school.

However,  the ACT reported that “budget amendments and annual financial reports show the county has transferred more than $15 million of the generated revenue to its own coffers.

“Interim County Manager George Wood, while warning of a projected shortfall next year, told commissioners in September they’ve been using the funds to help balance their budget — an unsustainable habit, he said,” according to the ACT.

A-B Tech officials are seeking to pinpoint exactly how that $15 million was spent. 

A-B Tech board Chairwoman Mary Ann Rice asked in an Aug. 13 letter for the commissioners to provide “a full accounting of all expenditures funded in whole or part” by the tax.

The ACT noted that, “after never receiving the information from commissioners, college officials hand-delivered the records request to Wood and commission Chairman Brownie Newman.”

Buncombe began shifting A-B Tech tax revenue to its general fund as early as the 2013-14 year, according to an ACT analysis. 

The newspaper reported that an initial $249,000 transfer has skyrocketed to an all-time high of $6.5 million this year, adding, “That’s the same amount that Buncombe appropriated to A-B Tech this year.”

While state money comprises most of A-B Tech’s funding, the college the county also gives it an annual appropriation to cover operations and some maintenance.

“Reports show the county slashed that appropriation after the tax was passed,” an ACT story noted. “Commissioners gave nearly $8.1 million during the 2012-13 year. They cut it the next year by $2 million, a roughly 25 percent decrease.”

In the aftermath, the commissioners have reported being deluged wth phone calls and emails from constituents infuriated by the county’s handling — or as they have contended, mishandling — of the sales tax. 

What’s more, state Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, whose district includes the college’s Enka campus, called for the commissioners to “make A-B Tech whole” and to give control over construction projects to A-B Tech officials. He noted that county government has oversight under a state bill passed after the sales tax was approved.



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