Black Mountain prepares to finalize upcoming budget, talks fire department staffing issues

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The Town of Black Mountain prepares to finalize the upcoming fiscal year budget.

The town of Black Mountain wrapped up budget discussions June 9 after going over one-time expenditures, the fire services fund, golf course funds, planning and zoning and stormwater. 

Town Council discussed staffing issues as well as budgeting from the general fund as the town looks for direction for funding.

"I think we need to face the fact that this town needs more staff," said council member Pam King. "And we need to make that happen."

Town vehicles, roll-out trash cans, trail and sidewalk work and various other projects were outlined among the one-time expenditures for a total of $2,353,300. However, not all one-time expenditures will be incorporated into the budget, and the final additions have yet to be determined.

Specific one-time expenditures included $280,000 for police cars and $300,000 for body cams, to be paid for through loans. The police cars and body cams were "programmed in as debt" according to Josh Harrold, town manager.

The total fire department recommended budget amounted to $2,629,675.

Additional one-time expenditures for the fire services fund include a truck for the chief at $75,000, an ATV replacement at $20,000 and $100,000 for capital reserve, all to be incorporated into the budget.

"If we end up needing to do something different with the fire department, how much do we want to sink into it right now," Harrold asked of Town Council.

According to interim fire chief John Coffey, the Black Mountain Fire Department has been facing staffing issues of late due to paternity and medical leave as well as summer vacations and a difficulty maintaining part-time staff.

Interim Fire Chief John Coffey informed the council the department has struggled with hiring and staff shortages. He said filling shifts has proven difficult because of medical leave, paternity and summer vacations.

"Obviously we're still going through the chief's position," Coffey said. "We're trying to beef up our part-time pool as well."

Coffey said neighboring departments such as Swannanoa often help each other with filling part-time shifts. 

The water fund recommended budget totaled $2,249,700. For stormwater, $450,000 made up the recommended budget. 

Harrold said changes to the water fund were attributed to the town increasing water rates by 6% "across the board." 

"We're buying more water from Asheville," Harrold said. 

Buildings, planning and zoning came out to $236,350 for the recommended budget, and the golf course fund totaled $784,925. 

Harrold announced the current building inspector's upcoming retirement. He said previously, the town has received little to no applicants for the position, which could create obstacles with getting inspections done.

"The other option, if we don't get anybody to do this for us, we can potentially contract someone else or the county can take it for us," Harrold said. "Aside from Montreat, who uses a contract person do their inspections, we are the only city in the county that does our own."

Included in the recommended budget for building inspection was the building inspection revenue fee, estimated at $300,000. Harrold said if the town doesn't hire a new inspector and the county takes on the job, money from the budget would go to the county, resulting in a shortfall for the town.

The town has set a 5 p.m. June 28 public hearing for the fiscal year 2022-23 budget. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.