1st Buncombe homeowner grants cost $586K. Can the program survive 2023 budget planning?
Buncombe’s recently launched homeowner grant program is being discussed for the fiscal year 2023. Still, staff and officials are afraid that if nothing is done before the new budget passes, the money invested in the program will outweigh any benefits. The program, established in 2021 to help Buncombe households overcome property tax increases by providing up to $500.00 in government-funded relief, will need the Board of Commissioners’ permission to continue forward.
“We’d love to figure out ways to make this property tax system a little bit less of a burden for those … for whom it is the biggest challenge. But that’s a big burn rate on (administration) for the actual public benefit that we’re going to provide.” commission Chair Brownie Newman said during Hardin’s March 29 presentation.
According to Buncombe Economic Services Director Phillip Hardin during a March 29 fiscal year 2023 budget work session, the homeowner grant program approved 1,263 of the 1,989 applications it received during its initial round.
Buncombe County, North Carolina provided $378,900.00 in grants, while Asheville and Woodfin collaborated with the county to provide $90,600.00 and $10,400.00 in grants, respectively. But, according to Hardin, the initiative cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to run. The time and money spent on administrative costs by the Tax Assessor’s office, Information Technology, and Health and Human Services departments totaled $207,676.00.
Commissioners were requested by Hardin to examine a few policy changes to the program. Among them were:
- Start accepting applications on July 1 and stop accepting them on Sept. 30.
- Consider approval for those who have mobile homes, which are personal property because the people who own them own the mobile home but not the land the unit sits on. These individuals were not eligible for awards in 2021.
- Require applicants to provide documentation of their earnings and cash reserves.
- Approve no applications from anyone with more than $5,000.00 in liquid assets (money that can be converted into cash within five days).
Hardin highlighted that assessing some of these aspects on each application would take extra time and that employees had worked overtime to manage the initiative.
“We want to make sure we’re serving the population I think commissioners intended for us to serve,” Hardin said as he presented these potential revisions. “We learned a lot through the last year.”
These conditions may change depending on commission decisions before the fiscal year 2023 budget is passed (it will take effect on July 1). Despite some potential stumbling hurdles and regulatory adjustments, commissioners voiced optimism about the program’s future.
“I definitely appreciate the effort put into this,” Commissioner Terri Wells said. “Clearly, we want to make sure we’re getting (grants) to the folks who are in need rather than those who just know that it’s available and are just taking advantage of the salutation.”