Buncombe County's lobbyists will push for McCormick Field, education funding from state
ASHEVILLE - At the North Carolina General Assembly's "long session" this year, Buncombe County lobbyists will be pushing for the state to fund some of the repairs and upgrades needed on McCormick Field to keep the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team operational and for better pay for teachers and other state employees.
Buncombe County commissioners met Jan. 30 with two members of their lobbyist team, Whitney Christensen and Trafton Dinwiddie of Ward and Smith P.A., as well as state Reps. Lindsey Prather, Caleb Rudow and Eric Ager, to discuss their legislative agenda. The group discussed commissioners' wants from the state over the next year, and politically feasible ways to achieve them.
"Thank you guys for building not only a great list of issues but a list of issues that can actually get done," Ager told Christensen and Dinwiddie.
Past Reporting:Buncombe hires General Assembly lobbyist to tackle education, hotel tax, land use, more
Ward and Smith, which has offices in Asheville, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh and Wilmington, was hired by the county to be its lobbyist on May 10, 2022, for $72,000 per year. The firm led the county's efforts in 2022's "short session" and will do so again in this year's session, which started Jan. 11 and is scheduled to adjourn July 28.
The last few months, the lobbyist team has worked with heads of county departments, county commissioners and others to identify ways the lobbyists can push the state to help the county. Here's what the county wants:
Funding for McCormick Field
McCormick Field, the Asheville Tourists' home stadium, needs around $30 million in upgrades and repairs to comply with MLB guidelines and modernize the historic stadium.
It also needs a plan on how to get that money before April 1 or MLB will not allow the Tourists to play on the field, according to past Citizen Times reporting. The county is hoping the state will chip in, as other fields around the state are facing similar mandatory upgrades.
Previous Coverage:Asheville Tourists owner: '2023 will be the last season if we don't do something'
Support for early childhood education
The county wants help supporting early childhood education and pre-K programs, particularly by simplifying or modifying the subsidy formula so that it can receive more state funds. Specifically, the county is looking for more funding to go to the state-funded pre-Ks and preschools in the county such as Buncombe County Schools, said county spokesperson Lillian Govus.
Power to regulate short-term rentals
Lobbyists were directed to oppose any proposals that would limit local government ability to regulateshort-term rentals or online marketplaces. Commission Chair Brownie Newman said this was not because the county wanted to ban short-term rentals, but just because it wants the option to regulate them if it decides to.
Related:For renters, Asheville area market the worst in NC, 5th worst in the US, study says
More:Asheville’s largest landlord stopped accepting rent assistance; How this hurts families
Lower property taxes for full-time residents
The General Assembly should use its lawyers to look into the possibility of lowering property taxes for full-time North Carolina residents, the county believes.
More:Supply, discrimination among factors impacting fair housing in Buncombe County: report
More:What were Asheville area's top 10 most expensive home sales of 2022? (Think mountaintops)
'Modernize' TDA occupancy tax
The guidelines for tourism development boards' occupancy tax has remained unchanged for decades, Christensen said.
Last year, the General Assembly did pass a local bill altering the formula in Buncombe County and others for determining how much tax money was put into advertising verses the boards' Tourism Product Development Fund, from a 75%-25% split to a 66%-33% split, both of which favor advertisement; however, Christensen said further changes like this one that are made within existing guidelines may not be helpful.
"We really are at the cliff, in terms of the house occupancy tax guidelines, in what we are able to do," she said.
Instead of trying to pass legislation that goes outside of those guidelines, the county push for legislators to explore ways to modify or 'evolve' the guidelines themselves, she said.
Past Reporting:Less money for Buncombe tourism advertising after occupancy tax bill passes NC Legislature
Growth:After record year, Asheville Airport breaks ground on $55M air traffic control tower
Better pay for state employees
Originally drafted to include only teacher salaries, this agenda item was expanded after concerns from commissioners over the high cost of living in Buncombe County and low state wages.
"We're at a breaking point now where many of our state government and local government employees, including teachers, early childhood workers, would qualify for the affordable housing units that we're building, and that in and of itself is a challenge," Commissioner Amanda Edwards said.
More:Database: Buncombe County employees
Funding for water-related projects
This is an "umbrella" agenda item, according to Christensen, for the funding of water quality, flood resiliency and stormwater mitigation projects in the French Broad River basin.
Related:Woodfin's Riverside Park, Whitewater Wave project fully funded, 90% designed
Funding for NC Innovations Waiver
The NC Innovation Waiver helps those with intellectual or development disabilities get long-term care and support in their home or community, rather than at an institution. The waitlist can be more than a decade for some in Buncombe County, so the county wants to see the state put more funding towards reducing that waitlist.
Funding for Broadband Infrastructure
County lobbyists will push for increased funding of the GREAT Grant program, which "provides state-funded grants to private providers of broadband services to facilitate the deployment of broadband service to unserved areas of North Carolina," according to the state's website. The county also wants to see more flexibility around how that grant money can be spent.
This article has been updated to correctly report that state Rep. Eric Ager was present at the event and to add clarity to the "'Modernize' TDA occupancy tax" section.
Christian Smith is the general assignment reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Questions or comments? Contact him at RCSmith@gannett.com or 828-274-2222.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Buncombe's lobbyists will push for McCormick Field funding from state