Dear Chairman MoffittBy
This document was offered to the Legislative “Study Committee” having a look at how to remedy the problem of an excellent water system and strong Buncombe County intergovernmental relations. Have a read. Offer your thoughts. Know that there will be a public hearing on the matter at the April 24th meeting of Asheville City Council.
Dear Chairman Tim D. Moffitt and Members of the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System:
Thank you for the time you have dedicated to studying Asheville’s municipal water system and its importance to the region’s long term physical and economic sustainability. On behalf of the City of Asheville, I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the Legislative Research Commission’s Committee on Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System draft report of proceedings, findings and recommendations.
The City of Asheville agrees with the report’s premise that water is an essential natural resource for the entire region, and that stability within the operation and management of the water system is crucially important to families, businesses, and industry in our area. Asheville has taken stewardship of the water system very seriously, and to that end, we have invested more than $70 million in capital infrastructure since Fiscal Year 2005-2006 (after the Regional Water Agreement was dissolved), which is two and a half times more than the previous six years. In addition to capital investment, there are numerous other management accomplishments about which water customers can be proud: the system becoming the first water utility in North Carolina to become ISO 14001 registered for Environmental Performance Standards, the completion of a Water System Master Plan update in 2009, the change of our metering system to an automated meter reading (AMR) system, an active leak detection program, and the creation of a water rate model that allows the system to project water revenues and expenditures over a five-year period, just to name a few.
We also agree that the history of the water system is unique and tells an important story. It tells a story about how our region worked together during the Great Depression to ensure the provision of safe drinking water for all citizens. It also shows how Asheville and Buncombe County have worked together across jurisdictional lines to find solutions to our differences, and how we have emerged from those instances as better partners for the future. Local officials would say that Asheville and Buncombe County are enjoying the most positive and collaborative relationship the two jurisdictions have experienced in a decade or more. Evidence of our collective success is New Belgium Brewery’s recent decision to locate its eastern production and distribution facilities in Asheville on the heels of Sierra Nevada’s decision to locate in Henderson County – two major economic development announcements that were contingent on the provision of safe, reliable, high quality drinking water.
Like Buncombe County, Asheville also has a successful partnership with the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD) in the areas of capital project planning and utility billing. The two organizations coordinate capital projects to ensure economies of scale whenever possible. In addition, the City of Asheville provides utility billing services and customer service support for MSD. Asheville remains committed to seeking ways to eliminate redundancy while maintaining quality services, and we believe we have been effective in cultivating those opportunities with MSD. Water and wastewater services are governed by different regulations administered by different agencies. These efforts by the City of Asheville and MSD address the efficiencies of coordination while recognizing the dissimilarity of our respective functions.
The legislation collectively known as the Sullivan Acts provides a legally binding framework that addresses the concerns expressed in the Committee’s report regarding differential rates for customers not located in the City. Asheville has applied the laws consistently since dissolving the water agreement in 2005. Differential water rates are not contemplated in any of the water system’s master plans or rate projections. In fact, Asheville is working to establish a multi-year rate plan that would provide greater rate predictability to water customers. The City of Asheville does not intend to seek opportunities to use water rates to incentivize voluntary annexation. Asheville is instead continuing to pursue policies to incentivize sensible growth within our existing jurisdictional lines by improving the clarity of development regulations and the efficiency of development review, refining land use incentive policies for key redevelopment areas like the river district, and investing in public infrastructure to support community and economic activity.
The Committee’s report is encouraging in many respects because Asheville is already implementing practices that support the premise of your work – that the system should be managed responsibly and efficiently according to best industry practices and in a way that ensures the provision of safe drinking water to citizens and businesses in the region. We believe the water system has been more successful in reaching those goals than under previous consolidated governance models. The Committee report seems to suggest that there is only one path for improving water system operations, consolidation with MSD. We are concerned that pursuing such a significant change that lacks public support could be harmful to the stability and continuity of water operations, harmful to our region’s economy, and harmful to the positive intergovernmental relationships that have been forged. At the same time, Asheville believes there are many options for considering continuous improvement of water system, and we are committed to working with our regional partners to explore those opportunities.
The mission of the City of Asheville’s Water Resources Department states: “Using the concept of continuous improvement, we accept the challenge of providing our regional customers with water to enhance their quality of life; being stewards over the most vital of all natural resources; and empowering our employees to meet our customer needs by providing the finest drinking water in the United States in an efficient and cost effective manner.” With this in mind, the City of Asheville remains open to enhancing the mission and values of the water system, the efficiency of service, and the overall quality of water in our region. We look forward to continuing discussions with Buncombe County, the Metropolitan Sewerage District, Henderson County, and other municipalities in the area to further support and enhance our shared goals.
Vice Mayor, Asheville City Council