So many people in our community have been impacted by the opioid crisis - they have lost a loved one to an overdose or they are struggling with the disease of addiction. People are hurting and pain like this demands a response.
Counties are uniquely positioned - and, I believe, have a responsibility - to help lead a multi-pronged response to the opioid crisis that includes partnering with advocates, those directly impacted, and providers. Buncombe County's current efforts are robust and include running a Syringe Services program and supporting community-based needle exchange programs and other harm reduction strategies; supporting treatment and recovery programs, including housing for mothers in recovery and their infants; being active in collaborations among stakeholders; and filing a lawsuit to recover damages from pharmaceutical companies.
Click here to read more of my recent op-ed in the Citizen Times.
I've been hearing from a lot of folks about the issue of how occupancy tax funds, generated by stays in hotels and AirBnBs, are spent in Buncombe County. For some background on the issue, including current occupancy tax projections, check out this article.
I wanted to share my perspective, so folks know where I stand on this. My perspective reflects a belief, first, that tax dollars generated through tourism should serve the needs of our community; second, that the current approach - which provides a disproportionate level of funding for tourism promotion relative to other communities in NC and which narrowly restricts how local funds can be used locally - is not serving our community's needs; and third, that there's a path forward that helps us move into a new chapter as a community that works for our residents - i.e. ensuring safe, affordable housing; living wage jobs; robust public transportation; and expanded early childhood education - and that is home to a vibrant multi-sector economy, including tourism. My thoughts are also informed by the ongoing conversations I've been in with community members including advocates and business owners, people involved with the TDA, members of County Commission, and city leaders and state representatives. I hear a wide range of perspectives in those conversations, and I also hear a lot of common ground.
I support the following reforms to the local bill (a bill passed by the General Assembly about what happens in Buncombe County), which can be introduced in the 2020 legislative season:
1) Change the allocation ratio so that more funding can be used for local purposes to address pressing needs. As a first step, I'm advocating for a 66/33 split, which would bring Buncombe into alignment with other counties on this; this would mean 33% of funds could be used for local purposes and 66% would be dedicated for tourism promotion.
Under the current allocation formula (75% for tourism promotion, 25% for local purposes), I see the value of the local funding in both direct ways - it funds important local projects that have strong community support - and indirect ones - by funding these projects, it off-sets the need for general funding from the county and city, freeing up those resources for other purposes, such as our work around early childhood education, affordable housing, or transit expansion. But the allocation needs to be adjusted to create more parity and to respond to the quite urgent community needs we are experiencing. Ultimately, I'd like us to regularly evaluate the ratio and consider steadily increased parity between the amount allocated for local purposes and for tourism promotion, especially as the amount of funding available typically exceeds projections.
2) Change the purposes for which local funding can be used to ensure it can be used for immediate public needs, including infrastructure, direct services, and maintenance of previously-funded projects. Ultimately, I think that this local funding should be able to be used for pressing local priorities including needs such as expanding affordable housing and expanding public transit.
3) Expand the composition of the local TDA board to include voting community representation and to make the members from County Commission and City Council voting rather than ex-officio, non-voting members.
I've landed on this approach, because I think these changes can be achieved during the 2020 legislative cycle; they would have an immediate, positive impact in our community; and there is a lot of strong and growing support around these reforms. Should this approach fail to result in changes to the bill, the next step I'd consider would be bringing this back to the Board of Commission to discuss the options available to us in terms of considering a reduction or repeal of the tax.
I'm happy to be direct touch about this - shoot me an email if you'd like to connect.
Knock, knock jokes are all the rage in our house right now as our 5-year-old builds out his comic repertoire. He really is a funny guy and we usually get through half a joke before he cracks himself up.
I was excited to do some actual door knocking on Monday, kicking off field efforts for my campaign in my neighborhood. Door knocking - or canvassing - is one of my favorite things about campaigning. After a few days of rain, it was beautiful, with the mountains were clear on the horizon. As with every part of campaign, there are countless theories about ideal times to door knock. Personally, I love to mix up when I go - you find different folks at home at different times.
I was inspired listening to folks share what's on their mind - how we make sure people can afford to live here, making sure there's access to public transportation, responding with compassion and effective services for those who are homeless.
It was really inspiring to get a tour of East Haven: 95 units of affordable housing coming soon to Swannanoa. Thanks to the team at Mountain Housing Opportunities for their leadership on this project, which will create safe, affordable home for hundreds of our neighbors.
Projects like this also show us what's possible - affordability, next to a bus stop, near a grocery store and health clinics, exactly the approach to development that we need to focus on.
And it's going up fast. We voted in February to approve county funding for this project and ground was broken by summer. I'd like to see us committing to an ongoing cycle of major affordable housing projects of this scale and believe we can do that in the next few years. For more information on East Haven and the application process, call 828.237.3055.
Saturday morning started off with meeting leaders in Swannanoa Valley precincts at The Root Bar, a fixture on US 70. It was exciting to feel the energy about organizing in the new District 2 and to hear from other candidates who also spoke - Rep. John Ager, County Commission Chair Brownie Newman, and State Senate Candidate Brian Casey.
One question kept coming up - how, in this divisive age, we approach those with different political views and world views. This question comes up all the time, in my personal life, in my work at the Campaign for Southern Equality, and in my work on County Commission, which is a bipartisan board. For me, it starts by approaching people with empathy, while also being very clear about what I stand for. The alternative is that for time uncertain we just avoid each other, or become wholly alienated from one another. Of all the things at stake in our country right now, this feels like one of the most important to me.
We'll be back at The Root Bar on January 24 for a campaign party, featuring music by Reed Turchi and Lemuel Hayes, and co-hosted by Annie Jonas and Stacey Enos. Hope you can join us!