The North Fork Watershed

The North Fork Watershed

(If you’d like to skip straight to the Action Step – click here.)

It began well over a year ago when the representative from NC’s 116th district filed a bill that would forcibly merge the City of Asheville’s public water utility with the Metropolitan Sewerage District. He didn’t bother to tell Asheville’s elected officials about it, even though they were in his office the day before. Quickly backpedaling, the representative reformatted the seizure into a “Study Committee” process. The “Study Committee” went through the motions, ignored the opposition, and came up with a recommendation that mirrored the original seizure bill. The bill itself was filed this past Thursday, HB488. It is an outright taking, offering no compensation for loss of the asset.

Asheville’s legal team is looking the bill over, and we’ll get more interpretation from them in coming days, but there are many truths that are painfully clear and that have been effectively ignored by those supporting this attack on Asheville.

– The legislation was not requested by the people of Buncombe County. 86% of Asheville’s voters opposed the merger in a recent referendum. Major business interests, including our Asheville Brewers’ Alliance and Downtown Association, oppose the merger. The NC League of Municipalites opposes it. Cities across North Carolina have passed Resolutions against it. The legislation solves no problems, but it creates a host of them.

– No compensation is offered for the seizure of this municipal asset. Various estimates value the asset between $57 million (lowball MSD estimate) and $1.3 billion. Only by taking the system without compensation can they demonstrate a cost savings to customers.

– Asheville is offered only a tiny minority of MSD Board representation despite the fact that the majority of water customers live in the city.

– The instability and unpredictability of the status of municipal assets will undermine future infrastructure investments and could also impact bond ratings. This means higher interest rates, paid by taxpayers, when it’s time to invest in infrastructure. And what city’s going to make big investments knowing that the state legislature may just swoop in and seize their assets?

– Asheville stands to lose $1.9 million/year from the water utility’s portion of shared central services.

– As it is proposed now, other legislation surrounding revenue reform does not promise to hold cities harmless. That is, we’re being told to expect deep drops in revenue, revenue that funds everything from firefighters to parks to street repair.

– In Asheville, we have no access to other sources of regional revenue (occupancy tax, food and beverage tax, etc.). In addition, Asheville is unique in its position in NC as a regional hub. Asheville has the highest daytime to resident population ratio among all cities in North Carolina with populations of 50,000 or greater. The daytime population, which includes people who commute into Asheville for work, is approximately 43,000 people higher than the resident population. That’s without counting people who travel in for shopping, services or tourism. With over 50% of Asheville’s budget directed to Public Safety (Police and Fire), a significant portion of city services are provided to non-residents yet paid for by city residents.

· The economic interdependency between Asheville, Buncombe County and the surrounding region has an impact on the lives of more than 1.3 million citizens living in 23 counties. Strengthening this type of urban-rural network requires partnerships to support regional economic relationships. Legislation that impacts Asheville impacts almost a quarter of counties in the State.

· The repeal of Asheville’s ability to access water revenues for regional infrastructure only adds to the financial stress of the current economy. Cities will be faced with two decisions – to raise taxes or to forego regional investments that support jobs and business growth – both of which are negative for North Carolina’s economy.

Picture 13All of that being said, I’m here to ask you to get involved again. I know, I know – You’ve spoken loudly. You’ve been ignored and insulted. I hope you’ll take two minutes and contact the members of the NC General Assembly. Many of them represent urban districts. Many of them believe that local governments ought to resolve local matters. Many of them believe that if you take something from somebody, you ought to pay for it. It’s time to let them know how you feel.

Step One: Cut and Paste this email address into your To: field – InternetE-Mail@ncleg.net

Step Two: Let them know how you feel. Persuade. Appeal to the angels of their better natures. Stay on topic. Leave the Caps Lock alone.

Step Three: Click send

Step Four: Repeat, adding phone calls and personal visits if possible.

Below are some sample messages you can use if you’re so inclined. It’s better to use your own words, of course.

Representatives and Senators,

I write today in opposition to House Bill 488, which forcibly merges Asheville’s excellent water system with the MSD. The system is well run, and our water supply is safe and abundant. This legislation doesn’t do anything but hurt Asheville. It doesn’t even offer compensation for taking a public utility! That’s the only way the “cost savings” claimed by the bill sponsors works – by refusing to compensate the city, which has made millions and millions of dollars of investments in the system.

Thank you for caring enough to oppose this bad legislation. It will have a chilling effect on cities, and we need them if we’re going to get our state back on track.


Representatives and Senators,

House Bill 488 is a bad faith bill that seeks only to harm Asheville. Please help this thing find its way into a dark, little committee room where it can wither and be forgotten.


Representatives and Senators,

Many of you value limited government. You value fairness and justice. You like solving real problems. House Bill 488 is government overreach that is unfair, unjust, and unwarranted. The forced merger of the water system with the MSD wasn’t requested by anyone here in Buncombe County, but it’s being forced down all of our throats. Our water system is excellently managed, and the supply is safe and bountiful.

There’s no good reason to support this bill, and I hope that people of good faith will help by putting an end to it.


Representatives and Senators,

We’ve made our case – the Asheville Water System is excellently managed. The water supply is safe and abundant. Long term capital improvement plans are in place. Prior legislation prevents differential rate structures, so folks outside the city don’t have to pay more than city residents. In HB 488, We are witness to the settling of some old scores and an effort to diminish the economic engine of western North Carolina. It’s an irresponsible move that sets a chilling precedent for North Carolina.

We’ve tried every which way to help the bill’s sponsors and supporters understand the damage their efforts will do. They’re not interested in hearing that. We’ve been supported by Resolutions in over 50 cities across North Carolina, and opposing this forced merger was the NC League of Municipalities’ highest vote getter when they set their advocacy priorities earlier this year.

We need your help to stop this bad idea. Please do anything you can!


  1. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Home rule. A Republican idea whose time has come.

  2. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Too late. The bill was withdrawn without comment this morning. Apparently the sponsorship only coming from the local area or something made it look too much like a local issue. Talk is of redoing it in a bigger bill later that also addresses the complications they have met with in trying to get the Hot lanes and a couple of other um, local issues enacted.
    Maybe the pressure of looking like total shills for their corporate supporters got to them, temporarily. Who knows? I’m sure we will hear more as the day progresses.

  3. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Link to the calendar.

  4. Gordon Smith says:

    I’m feeling an April Fools reference coming on here…

  5. Grant Millin says:

    Agreed. Home rule.

    Making NC a urban vs rural civilization is pure folly. They’re trying to be ‘severly conservative’ is my best guess.

  6. Doug Gibson says:

    Totally too good to be true. But here’s the real link (pdf) to the house calendar, and HB488 doesn’t appear on it. Never looked at the calendar before, so I’m not sure what that means.

  7. Davyne Dial says:

    Isn’t there a live feed on the internet on these bills coming up for vote? Anyone have that link?

  8. Bridget says:

    It still shows up on Moffitt’s house page. Scroll to the bottom for the last bill he introduced.

    The text is here.
    NC H488

    It does not seem to show up in any of the normal places, however.

  9. House doesn’t come into session until 4 pm.

    Jeff, where did you hear the particulars you referred to? Mind you, it’s April Fools, so we’ll need verification…

    The bill page itself doesn’t show anything about being withdrawn. Besides, official action on a bill taken sometime before 8 am on a Monday? Unlikely.

    Beware of disinformation, all.

  10. Doug Gibson says:

    I’m seeing this story referenced with a (facetious) #aprilfools tag on Facebook. Doubt it’s true.

  11. Apparently Chuck McGrady is telling people on FB that the bill isn’t on today’s calendar because it was filed too late on Thursday – it will be read into the record today. I don’t know that I believe that any more than other things that Chuck McGrady says.

    Here he is urging people to stop spreading “very bad information” ie, that the “City of Asheville is robbing their water system, even now, after Sullivan.” After acknowledging that the City has presented verifiable water revenue accounting, and that the money taken out of water revenues is for “OVERHEAD” he says that “we need to get some group of people to stop talking about that.”

    Today, he says that he is filing the bill in part to stop the City of Asheville from “subsidizing” their general fund with water revenue. Slightly “Two-Facey” of you, Chuck.

  12. Gordon Smith says:

    From Rep. McGrady, “I don’t know where you’ve heard that rumor. The bill will be referred to committee on Tuesday. Since it was filed after 3pm on Thursday, it doesn’t appear on Monday’s calendar.”

  13. Alan Ditmore says:

    I sent an E-mail to the address suggested above, as well as to Moffitt and Ramsey, but only after my standard message as follows:

    Please read these petitions advocating municipal environmental
    contraception funding, which is increasingly politically realistic due
    to The Big Sort in more and more towns, and helps women’s rights, quality of life, and school taxes as well as being at
    least 5 times more cost-effective than any other environmental effort.

    The prochoice and contraception movements are placing too high a priority on defensive actions in the red states when we should be going on the offensive, the side of “change”, in the blue states, and cities. The worst places
    will get even worse no matter what we do, but the unrealized political potential, the low hanging fruit, is in making the best places even better. This opportunity is being caused by The Big Sort. Mayors are not answerable to rural voters, unlike governors and presidents.
    We americans love cars more than babies, Very soon we will have to choose, and we will choose cars.

    I tentatively support HB488 because Asheville has repeatedly threatened to restrict water hookups in order to limit the suburban housing supply, and I feel this would cause additional homelessness in the area. I would oppose HB488 if not for this concern for the housing supply. I also oppose residential development limitations for upstaging contraception as an environmental effort, which is why my contraception request must be above and not below. Only after failing to limit homebuiding will municipalities have no alternative but to fund contraception. “more condoms, less condos” as the bumper sticker says.

    -Alan Ditmore, Leicester, NC

  14. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Sorry guys. I didn’t really know there would be any inkling in the real world that would make that sound plausible. I made it up while brushing my teeth this morning.

    I’m just that kind of brat, I guess. Now, about sending those emails…

  15. Great shot Ass End.
    A good number of people were alerted to the ScruHoo post this morning, tuned in, and told me they didn’t need to bother contacting their legislators because the bill was withdrawn.

    Thanks for the help.

  16. Just heard from someone with knowledge of the drafting of H488, about the supposed “anti-privatization provision”.

    Even if you believe that this provision won’t be repealed immediately after enactment (like they are doing to the fracking provisions that they wrote in last year to gain Democratic votes), this source says that “privatization” in the minds of H488’s authors does indeed only relate to the outright sale of the water system assets.

    “Public-Private Partnerships”, ie. complete management and operations of the Asheville water system, including setting rates, diverting profits, selling water to third parties, determining where water lines go or don’t go, etc., could all be signed over to a private company once it’s ripped from the control of the City of Asheville.

  17. shadmarsh says:


  18. We’re told that Asheville Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer will appear before the House Finance Committee Tuesday at 8:30 am to address bills H224 (Moffitt/Ramsey elimination of Asheville ETJ authority) and H252 (Moffitt/Ramsey/McGrady cutoff of Sullivan Act Transfer monies to City of Asheville)

    You can listen live here.

    Interesting – they have amended H224 to include a section that requires that the City of Asheville still allow Buncombe County the right to put appointees on the City Planning & Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment, even though the City can no longer regulate development in the ETJ.

    “The City will still cooperate as if there were not a boot on it’s neck.”

  19. The statute requiring that cities grant counties seats on their planning boards if they implement ETJ jurisdiction is G.S. 160A-362

    Moffitt/Ramsey’s bill actually says this with a straight face:

    Notwithstanding Section 1 of this act, Buncombe County shall have the authority to appoint one resident of the County who resided within one mile of the municipal limits of the City of Asheville to serve on the planning board and the board of adjustment of the City of Asheville as if G.S. 160A-362 applied.
    (emphasis mine)

    Buzzy Cannady must’ve called Nathan & said, “If you pass this as written, I won’t get to be Chairman of Asheville’s P&Z anymore!”

    the horror! the horror!!!

    The only reason County residents are allowed to sit on Asheville’s planning boards is because the City may exercise planning authority over the strip of land around it’s borders known as the ETJ. Moffitt/Ramsey are taking away the power but enforcing the obligation.

    That seems fair to everyone, right?

  20. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Jeez, Cecil, on the one day of the freaking year…call your friends back and tell them not to be so gullible. Democrats. No wonder we get our asses kicked so much. So serious all the time, yet perfectly willing to swallow any hair-brained thing they hear on the internet. The Internet!

    And yes, I am currently available for the 2014 election cycle, in case you want this criminal genius on your side…

    BTW, Kudos to Barry for being a constant – not constantly serious- source of energy and information.

  21. BTW, Kudos to Barry for being a constant – not constantly serious- source of energy and information.

    I know, April Fools. Very funny. Verrrrrrryyyyyyy fuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnyyyy.

  22. Davyne Dial says:

    ” and told me they didn’t need to bother contacting their legislators because the bill was withdrawn.

    Thanks for the help.”

    And that missed chance would have made all the difference. :-\

  23. Tom Sullivan says:

    Shared links and lede graf with the crowd at BlueNC.

  24. H488 is on the House calendar for tomorrow.

  25. TJ says:

    Well, Jeff, I guess you yelled “FIRE!” in the theatre…

    I’m politically naive, as I know Cecil would tell you(and, we all know 😉 – see? I still do the stupid smiley face)…. I got it. The joke, I mean.

    Try this one, instead:


    Cecil, sorry your “followers” were confused, but, names, really? I don’t think that will entice votes, and, your name is already on the back of my car. I like your honesty, and, I like your compassion more.
    I think the crew here has done their penance, since they’ve plastered FB with those links and shouting, “call…NOW!” Hopefully, those same folks who didn’t get the joke, will get that.

    I’m surprised that naive me doesn’t believe everything on the ‘net, and, it made me giggle to see Gordon’s first response…but, I get it. It’s no joking matter, so to speak. No, it’s not funny that “leaders” would strip rights from folks in a supposedly “free country,” create a “problem” to cover their you-know-what’s, drag down a city that brings the state a good source of income (which is still crazier than most of my schizophrenic clients’ delusions, IMHO, and, makes absolutely NO sense when they are all about money?#%!?).

    I hope Esther’s efforts help tomorrow, but, it seems like all they understand is force…and, that probably means lawsuit. Of course, who’s going to take ’em on?
    It’s ironic that Occupy was such a nuisance to the City, yet, now, anyone and everyone is asked to be an activist for this cause. I agree with that. I just wish it didn’t take a crisis to unite folks.

    In reality, ther is no “us” vs. “them.” They don’t get that. I hope WE can all remember it.

    I really like this:

    “GENERAL CONDUCT: Our first and perhaps most important rule was adapted from and perfectly communicated by honorary Scrutiny Hooligan Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in his 1965 novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

    “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    In other words, be lively, be friendly, be critical, be funny, be snarky, be strident – go nuts! But be civil. Don’t do anything in our house that you wouldn’t do in your own. We’re fans of people who know how to have a good time without breaking anything.”

    I’m guessing y’all do, too. Can we set the example we wish our leaders would?

  26. Tom Sullivan says:

    … this source says that “privatization” in the minds of H488?s authors does indeed only relate to the outright sale of the water system assets.

    That’s been obvious from the beginning. This is Moffitt’s and McGrady’s idea of being clever, is it? Meant for supporters they count on fooling all of the time, one assumes? The neighbors and friends they count on forgetting that MM&R are to blame when the for-profit water company raises water rates like Chicago parking fees, five years in a row.?

    You don’t even have to go that far: Sky-high water bills surprise 11000 in Durham

  27. Not surprisingly, the House Finance Committee approved both H224 and H252, and sent them back to the full House.

    H488, the bill seizing Asheville’s water system for no compensation whatsoever will come up on the House agenda at 2 pm and be assigned to a committee, probably Government. Govt. Comm. has already announced their agenda for this week, so H488 likely won’t come up again until sometime next week.

  28. Worth another look: the 2008 Evaluation of the failed 2005 mediation between Asheville and Buncombe County over the impending collapse of the Regional Water Authority.

    Interesting facts, (delivered by an out-of-town academic with no allegiance to any side):

    “The agreement also allocated 5% of water revenues to the city for unrestricted use and 2.5% to the county to fund economic-development.”

    That’s right. For all the bitching we hear about how the City of Asheville has “robbed” the water system of so much revenue, Buncombe County had their nose in the trough for the 24 year history of the Water Authority. They and the City dipped their beaks equally, according to the percentage of water customers in each jurisdiction.

    “A case in point was the split between city and county leaders in 2003 over a fee increase to pay for badly needed water system repairs. Asheville was pushing strongly for the increase but Buncombe County would not go along with the fee. This lack of control of the system contributed to the city’s frustration over the Water Agreement…”

    That’s right. For all the bitching we hear about how the City of Asheville hasn’t maintained the water system adequately, a major point in the collapse of the Regional Authority was that the City wanted to fix the system, but it was the County who refused to spend the money.

    That was the historical part. Skipping ahead to the conclusion, the main reason cited for the collapse of the negotiation and therefore the Water Authority?

    “The most difficult external barrier to a negotiated outcome came from the local legislative delegation. The existence of the proposed bills, Sullivan II and III, during the mediation profoundly changed the dynamics of the negotiations. The key issues of growth control and differential pricing suddenly became non-negotiable. This change in negotiation dynamics leads directly to the third hypothesis, that there was no viable bargaining range between the two

    Translation: the County persuaded the local delegation to give them a gun to put to the City’s head in order to run the table, and what should have been no great surprise to anyone, the City walked away from what might have otherwise been a fairly negotiated settlement. That’s not me saying that, that’s the conclusion reached by professional outside mediators.

  29. And sure, what the heck, let’s remember that the Chairman of the Buncombe County Commission, the guy receiving those wrongly-diverted water revenues from 2001-2005, the guy most responsible for refusing to invest in fixing the water system, AND the guy most responsible for that failed bullying of the City which led to the collapse of the Water Authority?

    Our own Nathan Ramsey, who now has his name on every bill attacking the City of Asheville.

    And after wriggling out from under that unworkable Water Authority, the City of Asheville has invested $40+ million in fixing the system, something that never would’ve happened if they’d stayed tethered to the County. You’re welcome.

    Their thanks for doing this? “Hey, nice water system. Shut up & hand it over! And don’t scream, or it’ll go harder on ya.”

  30. The House just came into session, and started on H489. No mention of H488.

    More later when we know something.

    Remember, don’t believe everything you hear…

  31. Like I said, don’t believe everything you hear. H488 came up out of order, and got sent to the Finance Committee. A surprising referral, btw…

  32. Doug Gibson says:

    Just for the record, here’s the current “anti-privatization” language in HB 488:

    § 162A?85.29. No privatization. The district board may not in any way privatize the provision of water or sewer to the customers of the district unless related to administrative matters only.

    Get it? You can only privatize the administration of the water system. That’s all. And, of course, that’s pretty much all those opposed to privatization are concerned about—the board’s ability to turn the management of the system over to a private company that will “recommend” rate increases and be the real decision-maker about resource allocation.

    So, Rep. McGrady, if you’re reading this, I’d like to say that every time you deny the “privatization” charge, you’re lying. Come and defend yourself if you will.

  33. Yes, and curious that the word “privatization” does not appear in the long list of definitions in the bill. Not that you’d want a word like that to have a common understanding. Better to have that remain vague, amorphous, subject to interpretation (current or subsequent), subject to future modification due to evolving industry imperatives, political or economic climates, etc.

    Heck, there might not even be any need to put it into law and then immediately rip it out again, like the anti-fracking provisions necessary to get the energy bill passed last year, and currently being gutted now, 9 months later. It means nothing to bar “privatization”, when “privatization” can mean anything and nothing all at once.

    Chuck? Hellloooooo? Is this thing on?

  34. Michelle Pace Wood says:

    The last city and county positions I saw in the report.

    “With the Water Agreement expiration deadline of June 30 coming quickly, Asheville and Buncombe County continued to exchange options for moving forward. At a special May 24 meeting held to discuss the water issue, Buncombe County restated their preference for an independent water authority but indicated a willingness to support a prior proposal by a City Council member that would allow the city to retain ownership of the system. Their position on rate differentials remained unchanged. At the Asheville City Council’s formal meeting that evening, the Council rejected this plan however, instead stressing the importance of rate differentials to offset the higher cost of service in lower density areas outside the city and to provide some relief for city residents”

    I’m just asking….Is this still the position of Asheville?

  35. I don’t know how anyone could read deeply into this stuff and not be screaming bloody murder!

    Sadly, almost nobody reads deeply into political machinations. I sure as hell hope that the multiple damages done to NC citizens in the raft of utter crap being floated in Raleigh this year will motivate voters in 2014. (at least any who still have the right to vote after this wrecking crew acts to eliminate electoral rights.)

    Stay strong folks. We need to focus on the fact that the 2010 tea kick was a racist and libertarian gut reaction. Politics shifts fast. We can boot these idiots in 2014 if we get out the vote.

  36. TJ says:

    Nathan Ramsey’s response to a comment left on one if his FB posts:

    “We already have a regional sewer system, and the water system customers are 1/2 outside of the city and the Mills River WTP is in Henderson County, prior to 2005 our water system was called Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe, and Henderson.”

    So. I guess that makes forcible takeover okay.

  37. TJ says:

    Well, if I could make my FB scream, y’all would be deaf by now.

    Sure wish I knew all those Harry Potter tricks with mail that flies and screams, lol!

  38. Somebody remind Nathan that 62/38 is not 50/50.

    And ask him to respond to the unbiased independent report on the breakdown of the water mediation, especially the part where they point out that the City wanted to raise rates to fix the system in 2003, and the County under Nathan’s leadership refused.

    I’ve asked him before & he doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of it.

    Oh, and ask him how many millions of dollars Buncombe County took out of the water system for “other purposes” during his tenure.

  39. TJ says:

    I’ll cut and paste and reword slightly and leave on his post. Of course, “I” am asking…I’ll let y’all know IF he responds.

  40. TJ says:

    John Miall’s response to Mr. Ramsey’s comment:

    “Mr. Ramsey raises an excellent point. Prior to 2005 and before Henderson County became briefly a part of the Regional Water Authority it was the Asheville-Buncombe Water Authority. Buncombe, like Henderson County historically did very little to develop its own infrastructure. Asheville did as it built libraries, airports, water systems, etc. Prior to that time Buncombe County did not provide most of the services one associates with county government. They did not operate a landfill. They did not operate a library system or much of a Parks & Rec system. The City of Asheville did all those things. Buncombe’s desire for access to water allowed the City to leverage the County to assume some of those burdens and relieve city taxpayers from carrying the load for everyone. In fairness, the Asheville Buncombe Henderson Authority had problems. Unfortunately Henderson County was not treated fairly in the dissolution of that authority. But, rather than take responsibility for their own needs they waited patiently until the political environment favored the punitive taking of someone else’s Property. Interestingly Buncombe County is on record as as saying they have no complaints with the way Asheville is managing its system. The saddest part of this is that two legislators from Buncombe County have more regard for Henderson County than they do for their own Buncombe constituents. Yes. Asheville taxpayers ARE Mr. Ramsey’s and Mr. Moffit’s constituents.”

    And, he is running for Mayor, folks. What do YOU think?

  41. I’m glad both announced candidates for mayor are on the same side of this issue.

    But I’d be shocked and amazed if they weren’t.

  42. TJ says:

    If they don’t want to get run out of town by restless natives, that is :-/!

  43. RHS says:

    “We need to focus on the fact that the 2010 tea kick was a racist and libertarian gut reaction.t”

    It was also a gut reaction that was enabled by Democrats and other progressives who sat out the election and did not vote. Let this be a lesson of what happens when Democrats and progressives don’t vote.

  44. TJ says:

    Still no comment from Mr. Ramsey.

  45. TJ says:

    Sorry. I have someone else constantly reminding me to breathe 🙂

    Besides, I think too many folks hold their breath and “hope for the best,” too much already.