State Takeover Fight Moves to TriangleBy
Opponents of a state measure to take over the Asheville city water system and forcibly merge it with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County met in Durham Saturday with members of the State Executive Committee of the North Carolina Democratic Party. State, city, and county legislators from every corner of the state were among the hundreds of delegates at the meeting to elect new state party officers.
The merger bill cosponsored by Reps. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe) and Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) is expected to force a merger of the Asheville city water system with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. It will be introduced within days and likely fast-tracked through the committee process. The House Standing Committee on Regulatory Reform, chaired by Moffitt, could review the bill.
Jake Quinn, a DNC member from Buncombe County, went to the microphone to address the assembly about the legislation.
“Forty communities from Murphy to Manteo — all smaller than Asheville — read between the lines.” All approved “a League of Municipalities resolution opposing the forced takeover of municipal infrastructure,” Quinn reported. Quoting the NCLM resolution, he continued, “This sets ‘a dangerous precedent that will have a chilling effect on any local government investing in needed infrastructure in the future.’” Quinn urged members to join the fight to defeat the bill, “Because your town could be next.”
At its Advocacy Goals Conference in Raleigh on January 24, the nonpartisan League adopted as a top goal for the legislative session, to “oppose legislation that weakens or removes local control over public utility systems, specifically including municipal water and/or sewer systems.”
Dozens of SEC members stopping by to sign the online petition were surprised that the NCGA could legislatively appropriate city property. State legislators seemed aware of the bill but, like other delegates as well as press, took home background materials and heard an explanation of the financial impact of the “forced taking.”
Burlington delegate, Bill Franklin, observed that half of Burlington’s annual revenue comes from its water system. Should Burlington lose that infrastructure to the state, a delegate from Wake County concluded, “They’d be in deep s#%t.”
Days earlier, group spokesman Barry Summers summed up another economic implication of annexation of city infrastructure by the state, “I wonder how the municipal bond market will react to this?”
With embattled current Chair David Parker stepping aside, former Congressman Bob Etheridge was rumored to be interested in the job of Chair. He never declared, stating on his Facebook page on Wednesday that he was “focused on other ways” to serve. Etheridge appeared briefly in Durham, before leaving “to watch a grandson play basketball.” A group of supporters nominated him for chair anyway.
In the race between Randy Voller, mayor of Pittsboro, and the absent Etheridge, Voller narrowly defeated the “draft Bob Etheridge” faction to win a term as NCDP Chair. Nina Szlosberg-Landis, an Obama campaign veteran with a reputation as a tireless worker, won 1st Vice-Chair. Zack Hawkins of Raleigh was reelected at 2nd Vice-Chair. Andy Ball from the Boone town council won 3rd Vice Chair. Former secretary Melvin Williams won a new term.
Update: Corrected the spelling for Nina Szlosberg-Landis.
Correction: The Water Resources and Stormwater Funds are budgeted separately from Burlington’s General Fund for the operation of City Government. The water system contributes a few percent to government operations and is otherwise a self-funded asset whose revenues constitute about 1/3 of Burlington’s Total Operating Funds.