Apr
19

Dear Chairman Moffitt

By

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.

Sincerely,

Esther Manheimer
Vice Mayor, Asheville City Council


Comments

  1. Nice letter. Also, fyi, I’ve posted a copy of a very strong statement that the N.C. League of Municipalities issued in opposition to Moffitt’s actions:

    N.C. League of Municipalities letter opposing Moffitt’s actions

    Barry was at the meeting and said they voted:

    Unanimously, except for the one Democrat, Rep. William Brisson, who was AWOL. It appeared to those of us in the room that they did not know why he was absent (they started 5 minutes late waiting for him to arrive), and Chairman Moffitt did not mention his absence… hmm…

    Other than that, it went like s*** through a goose. The “Committee” discussed & deliberated & considered… not one whit. The entire meeting lasted exactly 10 minutes 15 seconds gavel to gavel, possibly a new record.

    And lo and behold – after one year, four legislative hearings, three community meetings, and God knows how much spent on the two Committees, they came back to… exactly where we left Tim Moffitt’s bill of one year ago.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  2. TJ says:

    WELL DONE, Esther! As an attorney, I hope you (along with others), are exploring any legal strategy that will prevent this, OR, ways to litigate and finding legal remedies to the heavy handed actions being pursued.

    Too bad we can’t cut off Moffitt’s water, and send him a note saying we appreciate his contribution and that we will gladly test him water for him, to be sure he gets the same deal we all do.

    I guess I am just baffled how there is ANYTHING legal about stealing, or, taking by force -”seize: take hold of suddenly and forcibly. Capture(a place) using force.”

    Maybe I can do that with my back. After all, they have their own illegal seizure of houses…

    Tim M. needs to bail out every one arrested for theft, to complete his job as the role model…but – not for my kids. 8-(

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  3. Gordon Smith says:

    Heather,

    We can’t click into a Google Doc. If you’ll email it to me, I can give it a home here at ScruHoo and a URL.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  4. Doug Gibson says:

    When I’m not sickened by what’s going on, I’m fascinated. Does anyone else see several different grudge matches going on in this process? Between Asheville and Buncombe, between Buncombe and Henderson, between urban centers and rural areas, between newcomers and natives.

    When people talk about one side or the other being blinded by party loyalty, I think they’re missing the bigger picture. Thanks to demographics and shifts in the state’s economy, we’re at a point where the dividing line between Democrat and Republican falls along a number of other big fissures that divide us, with national politics playing a larger and larger role in local affairs. Moffitt’s water bill is sort of a perfect storm.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 4

  5. Tom Sullivan says:

    It’s aristocracy (& not-so-closeted royalists) vs. democracy.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  6. Mark Cates says:

    Doug,

    You make excellent points. Let’s add to it all the local politicians that have flip-flopped their positions.

    We have those who voted for the Sullivan Acts in Raleigh, now talking about the importance of home rule.

    While others others that spoke of repealing the Sullivan Acts as a priority, now saying repeal is not such a big deal.

    Thumb up 5

  7. Dixiegirlz says:

    “Does anyone else see several different grudge matches going on in this process? Between Asheville and Buncombe, between Buncombe and Henderson, between urban centers and rural areas, between newcomers and natives.”. Yes I do,mand it’s appalling how selfserving the grudge matches are while the public interest be damned. It’s all about acquiring and keeping the most power.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  8. The Old North State says:

    @Mark Cates. random serious question:

    Is there a difference, ideologically speaking, between you and Dr. Dan Eichenbaum? I’m so excited you’re hear!

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  9. Davyne Dial says:

    Sorry for the typos above, posting on a willfull iPad, that like to mess with my writing every chance it gets.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  10. Mark Cates says:

    TONS,

    I appeared on Local Edge radio with Blake. Would you also like to know about our differences, ideologically speaking?

    If not then, what’s your point?

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 4

  11. The Old North State says:

    @Mark Cates
    Whatever you feel comfortable disclosing (you did run for office recently). I’m just curious about your opinions on national and State politics. I saw you in a 1 hourish interview on Dr. Dans show and learned very little about your opinions compared to his.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 3

  12. mat catastrophe says:

    “If not then, what’s your point?”

    Wow. Conservatives are so rude.

    Also, horrible with punctuation.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 3

  13. Doug Gibson says:

    Mark,

    I haven’t been keeping up with this issue as I should, I guess. Is Martin Nesbitt calling for a repeal of Sullivan II? Whatever he’s saying about who should own the water system, has he specifically called for a repeal of that law?

    What about David Gantt? Carol Peterson? I know Susan Fisher, who was about three months in office when she signed on as cosponsor, admitted soon after that she had made a mistake. But has any Democratic politician who a) is still in office, and b) sponsored, or called for the passage of, Sullivan II – have any of them called for that law’s repeal? (Even Susan Fisher?)

    When Democrats talk about “home rule,” I’d imagine they mean that laws dealing primarily with local issues should be decided by local elected officials – by consensus, if possible. So when Nesbitt and Goforth got Apodaca and Sherrill to sign off on Sullivan II, they were acting the way they’d expect Moffitt to act – making sure there was a bipartisan consensus, at least among the delegation, for setting a policy in Raleigh. And of course they acted with the blessing of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, something that Moffitt can’t claim to have done.

    Sullivan II was passed with Asheville’s reclaiming of its water system already pretty much decided. Did Nesbitt and Goforth respond by passing an unprecedented piece of legislation, a first-of-its-kind seizure of a city’s assets, an imposition of a regional authority? No. They acted to preserve something like the status quo when it came to the effect on Buncombe ratepayers – but they otherwise let Asheville do what it wanted.

    Thumb up 8

  14. From Carolina Public Press:

    The four committee members present — Chairman Moffitt, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson; Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg; and Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake — approved the report and recommendations unanimously. The fifth member and the lone Democrat, Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, was absent. Brisson also missed the first meeting in January.

    Like Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

    I sure hope the reason Representative Brisson didn’t show up twice has nothing to do with being tied up in that gay sexual harassment scandal thingy up there in Raleigh. That would be scandalous!

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  15. Gordon Smith says:

    From Speaking For Buncombe:

    Today’s Dunce Cap award goes to Rep. William Brawley of Mecklenburg County, who told the Carolina Public Press, “I was disappointed with the number of people–particularly in elected office–that seemed to view this whole thing as something they owned and that gave them power to control the lives of others,” he said. “There would have been unfair access. Basically, ‘do what we tell you, or you get nothing to drink… You have to do what we say or you won’t have water.’ That’s the wrong premise for a water system.”

    1) “Do what we tell you or you’ll get nothing to drink”?

    Seriously? This is the stupidest comment I’ve heard during this whole thing.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  16. Doug Gibson says:

    My guess is that Brisson kept asking himself, “is there any reason for a legislator from deep down east to have any say in what Asheville does with its water system?” And he kept coming up with no answer.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  17. Here’s an answer, Doug: he’s someone who doesn’t take his committee assignments as a Member of the North Carolina General Assembly very seriously — especially on this most important of issues. STOP IT MOFFITT!

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  18. I crack myself up.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  19. Tim Peck says:

    “I guess I am just baffled how there is ANYTHING legal about stealing, or, taking by force”

    I guess it became legal when Democrats set up state government without home rule. Show me where the city calls for home rule in their legislative agenda?
    ……………………..

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 2

  20. Mark Cates says:

    Doug,

    [Is Martin Nesbitt calling for a repeal of Sullivan II? Whatever he’s saying about who should own the water system, has he specifically called for a repeal of that law?]

    No, it appears that Nesbitt thinks leaving the city shackled with the Sullivan Acts is a good thing. His previous votes in Raleigh to the contrary, his current position appears to be that home rule is a better option.

    [What about David Gantt? Carol Peterson?]

    Hard to say how their position will change if Democrats win control. What we know for now, is that their position seems to be flexible.

    [I know Susan Fisher, who was about three months in office when she signed on as cosponsor, admitted soon after that she had made a mistake.]

    Very difficult to predict how she will flip-flop if the political winds change.

    [But has any Democratic politician who a) is still in office, and b) sponsored, or called for the passage of, Sullivan II – have any of them called for that law’s repeal? (Even Susan Fisher?)]

    I think Councilman Smith’s thoughts on this subject sum up their perspective better than I can. It appears they are satisfied that “The unfair Sullivan Acts restrict our city’s ability to create a sustainable water plan.”

    [– but they otherwise let Asheville do what it wanted.]

    See Councilman Smith’s quote above. I think their might be some disagreement in that regard.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  21. Mark Cates says:

    Doug,

    No reason to get my 2 cents on Peterson, when we can hear from a former city councilman and progressive;

    Bryan Freeborn

    [Peterson will not stop playing coy. Her position is to have no position.... As someone who as negotiated with the county commissioners on behalf of the citizens of Asheville, I can tell you at no time in the two years of talks that i participated in did she show one ounce of leadership.]

    Mat, that semicolon was just for you. You appear to enjoy worrying about typos, punctuation and grammar in comments…

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1

  22. mat catastrophe says:

    Too bad it’s the wrong punctuation for what you were trying to accomplish.

    Please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself.

    Thumb up 5

  23. Doug Gibson says:

    Mark,

    [But has any Democratic politician who a) is still in office, and b) sponsored, or called for the passage of, Sullivan II – have any of them called for that law’s repeal? (Even Susan Fisher?)]

    I think Councilman Smith’s thoughts on this subject sum up their perspective better than I can. It appears they are satisfied that “The unfair Sullivan Acts restrict our city’s ability to create a sustainable water plan.”

    So the short answer to my question is “no, not that I know of.”

    The long answer seems to be that even with all the unprecedented actions Rep. Moffitt has taken during this legislature, you can’t be bothered to figure out why anyone who supported Sullivan II would oppose the bill coming out of the study committee.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  24. Andrew Dahm says:

    Sullivan was an effort to balance competing interests. Mr. Moffitt is seeking to eliminate one competing interest from the conversation.

    Rates are going to go up, by the way.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 1