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From annexation powers to water-system control, a look at what’s happening this week at the NC General Assembly

The first set of Asheville and Buncombe County bills passed by the state House were heard in Senate committees last week and are one step closer to becoming law.

Sen. Jim Davis

The State and Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, took up two bills — an authorization for Buncombe County to fast track an economic development project off Sweeten Creek Road and a bill that eliminates Asheville’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and puts a 12-year hold on the city’s annexation powers.

At the hearing last Tuesday, Asheville-area Republicans Reps. Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey, co-sponsors of the legislation, testified on the need for the bills.

Moffitt told senators that the city’s ETJ was no longer necessary since the county had well-established zoning rules and could take over planning and zoning authority for the areas. The bill, he said, would also not prohibit voluntary annexations by the city.

Asheville Democrat Sen. Martin Nesbitt said he was concerned about the rising number of  bills aimed at the city’s powers.

“This is about the fifth bill on the city of Asheville this year,” he said during Moffitt’s presentation. “Mountain people get a little tired of that after a while.”

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Moffitt shot back: “Thank you senator, I am one of those mountain people.”

Jack Cozart, a lobbyist who represents Asheville, said while the city and county are working toward an orderly handover of the planning and zoning authority for the ETJ areas, Asheville still has concerns that the bill retains two seats reserved for county representatives on Asheville’s planning board and its Board of Adjustment.

Moffitt said the seats were retained to provide consistency and better coordination between the city and county governments.

Meanwhile, another set of Asheville bills continues to work their way through the House, with a vote set on a statewide bill that would clear the way for a water and sewer system merger scheduled for a final House vote Monday night.

Also on the House agenda is a bill that would allow Buncombe County to use school construction funds for improving the county schools’ digital learning infrastructure. The move is similar in philosophy to statewide education legislation advancing in both the House and Senate.

Ramsey said the bill also would help to equalize the funding disparity between the city and county districts. With an aging population, growth in school age population has “flatlined,” he said. The bill, he said, doesn’t directly encourage a merger of the two systems, but in the event they do in the future, it would allow them to better share school capacity.

Also being readied for committee review is House Bill 568, introduced by Ramsey, Moffitt and McGrady, which would de-annex five parcels totaling roughly 675 acres that are now in the city limits, including the Asheville Regional Airport. Last year, the legislature changed the makeup of the airport’s governing body, removing it from the city and setting up a regional airport authority. City leaders estimate Asheville would lose roughly $200,000 in tax revenues if the bill becomes law.

Also likely to be heard in committee soon is House Bill 418, which would allow for the creation of a new joint city-county parks and recreation authority.

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In other action scheduled for this week, the Senate is expected to give final approval to a bill that would allow Waynesville to annex the Lake Junaluska area. A vote on the bill is scheduled for Monday evening.

Other recently introduced bills include:

  • Legislation co-sponsored by Davis mandating that the UNC system include the study of the Cherokee language as fulfillment for foreign language degree requirements;
  • Another measure to fund expansion of a Western Crime Lab, this one, introduced by Reps. Josh Dobson, R-Nebo, and Mike Hager, R- Rutherfordton, would allocate $2.9 million to renovate either Broughton Hospital or the state’s School for the Deaf in Morganton for the new lab and provide $1.9 million to fund 19 staff positions; and
  • A bill sponsored by Asheville’s House delegation honoring the life of former Rep. Mary Cordell Nesbitt, mother of Asheville’s Sen. Martin Nesbitt, and renaming the Biltmore campus of the Mountain Area Health Education Center after her.

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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