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Asheville water, planning and zoning bills on tap

Last week, the city of Charlotte was the focus of the N.C. General Assembly. This week it’s Asheville’s turn.

A bill that would shift the governing authority for the city’s water and sewer system to a separate authority was introduced Thursday by Asheville Rep. Nathan Ramsey and Rep. Tim Moffitt and Hendersonville Rep. Chuck McGrady.

The seven-page tightly worded legislation follows both changes approved last year for municipal sewerage districts in a bill pushed by McGrady and Moffitt last session and with recommendations calling for a merger by a study committee chaired by Moffitt. It envisions a 15-member board drawn from both Buncombe and Henderson counties and their municipalities. The board would have the power to issue bonds, set rates and charges for services and maintain and expand the system.

Asheville officials have made it clear they see the bill as a takeover of the city’s water and sewer system.

In a statement published on Facebook on Friday, Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy said that the move would harm economic development and business growth and the city’s revenues.

“There are significant revenues at stake – utility franchise tax, beer and wine excise tax, privilege licenses – amounting to nearly $8 million annually in revenue for Asheville alone (not including the sales tax impact to food going down 50 percent – we have not quantified this yet),” she said.

She went on to say that the city also stands to lost another $1.9 million “from the utility’s portion of shared central services.”

“Taken together with other potential revenue impacts, Asheville will inevitably be faced with making very difficult decisions about cutting services or raising property taxes,” she said.

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The merger bill has also drawn a lot of interest outside the region. In its legislative briefing ahead of the session, the North Carolina League of Municipalities warned that it could set a bad precedent and lead cities to not make investments in airports, parks and infrastructure if they could be taken away by the state.

Paul Meyer, the league’s director of governmental affairs, said the legislation may be narrowly tailored to apply only to Asheville, but it underlines concerns about the General Assembly’s attitude toward the state’s municipalities.

“These kinds of decisions create uncertainty for other cities,” Meyer said.

The bill, titled “Reorganization of Public Utilities,” could be read in as early as today (Monday) and will likely be routed through multiple committees.

Meanwhile, two Asheville bills delayed last week by a contentious debate over Charlotte’s desire to upgrade Panther Stadium, are scheduled for review by the House Finance Committee, their last stop before heading to a floor vote.

House Bill 224, which eliminates Asheville’s extraterritorial jurisdiction authority and transfers planning and zoning for its ETJ to Buncombe County, and House Bill 252, which repeals the city’s ability to use 5 percent of water and sewer authority revenues for capital projects, are scheduled to be heard Tuesday morning by the House Finance Committee.

Also coming up for a hearing soon is legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherfordton) aimed at rolling back the state’s renewable energy portfolio requirements. The bill, which has drawn fire from environmentalists as a gift to Duke Energy, Hager’s former employer, is to be heard Wednesday morning in the House Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Energy and Emerging Markets. The legislation would freeze the standards at the current rate, which requires that 3 percent of the electricity produced comes from renewable resources. Under current law, the requirements would rise to 12.5 percent by 2025.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis (R-Franklin), a bill clearing the way for Waynesville’s annexation of the Lake Junaluska area is scheduled to be heard in the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

Davis applauds McCrory budget proposal

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Sen. Jim Davis (R-Franklin), who is co-chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Information Technology said McCory’s budget makes long overdue changes to the state’s tech services.

“We have some serious problems problems in IT overspending,” Davis said. “You have so many silos, so many departments that can’t talk to one another.”

Davis said he was also glad to see the governor put money into hiring more teachers.

“We’re going to loose some teaching assistants, however we think it’s more important to invest the money in teachers,” he said.

Members of House and Senate appropriations committees are scheduled to meet again this week to review department requests and the governor’s proposal. But the number of meetings, which has held fairly steady since legislators returned at the end of January, is starting to dwindle, indicating that the legislature is wrapping up the reviews and preparing to craft its own proposal.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that an approved bill introduced by Rep. Tim Moffitt and Rep. Chuck McGrady modified state law on metropolitan sewerage districts.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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