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The House Finance Committee on Tuesday voted to approve two bills that would alter Asheville’s use of water revenues and annexation powers. The bill now heads to the House floor. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

Two Asheville bills cleared the House Finance Committee Tuesday but not before a debate that shifted back and forth from a broad discussion of municipal authority to the use of water revenues for the city’s Azalea Road project.

Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Asheville) used the road project as an example for how he says the city is abusing its authority to use up to 5 percent of the revenues from its water system for sidewalk and road infrastructure.

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House Bill 252, which Moffitt introduced along with Rep. Nathan Ramsey (R-Asheville) and Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville), would repeal the authority to use the revenue granted by the legislature in 2009.

Moffitt said the waterline extension to soccer fields on the road accounted for only $189,000 of the cost of the project compared to more than $2 million in road improvements.

“These are loosely connected improvements that are being associated to a waterline improvement, and, from this policy maker’s perspective, just not good policy,” Moffitt said. “Water revenues need to stay in-system.”

Asheville Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer defended the use of the fund, telling legislators that the bill will affect the city’s ability to make infrastructure improvement to support job growth. She said the Azalea Road project benefits a broad area and includes significant stormwater improvements as well as road work and the waterline extension.

Asheville Finance and Management Services Director Lauren Bradley said breaking out the project cost overlooks that the roadbed repair is necessary for the installation of the new waterline.

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” she said.

The committee debate and subsequent vote split along party lines. Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Raleigh) said the bill seemed like “payback” for past disagreements between Asheville and its neighbors.

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But several GOP representatives said they agreed with reigning in the use of utility revenues by municipalities. Last year, the legislature tightened requirements on the use of revenues from city-run power companies on projects other than upgrades and repairs to the system.

The bill passed on a voice vote and will now head to the House floor.

The committee also approved House Bill 224, which mandates the transfer of planning and zoning authority over Asheville’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to Buncombe County. The bill also would prevent the town from considering involuntary annexations until 2026, but would allow for voluntary annexations to continue.

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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