Archive for Buncombe County

Here’s a handy, informative powerpoint that illustrates our many challenges and opportunities as a city.

City of Asheville financial presentation from Scrutiny Hooligans

This hit my inbox yesterday, and I thought I’d share it here:

Despite the sincere appeals from many of you, and the principled arguments made by representatives of the City of Asheville, the NC General Assembly has passed House Bill 488, the “Regionalization of Public Utilities”.

The main intent of this bill is to forcibly remove control of the Asheville water system and pristine 22,000 acre watershed from Asheville’s elected officials, and put it in the hands of an unelected Board controlled by the State. The studies have all been finalized: there will be no economic benefit to ratepayers from transferring control of Asheville’s water, there will be no “efficiencies” gained – this is about wrenching control of water from the people into the hands of the State.

The threat of privatization of this vital resource still exists, and the threat to make this the first of many such seizures across the State still exists. We need to take a stand now just as was done last November when 86% of Asheville voters expressed opposition to the sale or lease of the water system. To date, over 50 municipalities in North Carolina have passed resolutions opposing the forced transfer of local government infrastructure.

Our best hope to derail this ill-advised juggernaut lies with NC Governor Pat McCrory. As a former Mayor himself, he has to see that the State seizure of municipal assets is a terrible idea. What City or Town will make investments and improvements in their infrastructure (the kind that Asheville has recently made in their water system), once the precedent has been set that if one greedy neighbor wants your assets, the State may step in and take them? This is what is happening to Asheville.

Please take the time to send an email to Governor Pat McCrory.

Or give his office a call (919) 733-5811. As always: be polite, don’t attack the bill sponsors, be persuasive. Mention “Asheville Water” or the “Regionalization of Public Utilities” bill. Should the bill reach his desk, ask him to please Veto!

For more info & other ways you can help, you can always visit SaveOurWaterWNC.com

Thanks for speaking up for safe, publicly-controlled drinking water!

Barry & the whole crew at Save Our Water WNC

Apr
11

#AVLH2O Fact Sheet & FAQ

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Today is the day our NC House of Representatives will likely vote on whether to forcibly merge Asheville’s public water system with the appointed Metropolitan Sewerage District. I thought I’d share the facts. The media team for the representative from the 116th District will continue to misrepresent the facts no matter how often they’re repeated, but the facts ought to be out here for everyone to see. Here’s a direct link to the city’s version (.pdf).

Screenshot 2013-04-11 at 8.04.08 AM

I. Does Asheville’s regional water system require higher rates to customers outside the City?

NO. The law requires just the opposite. Customers inside and outside the City pay the same rates. The Sullivan Acts ensure that. The City of Asheville has no desire to pursue legislation or policies that result in inequitable treatment to rate-payers who live outside the city limit.

II. Does Asheville take $3 million a year out of the enterprise fund to subsidize the City’s general fund?

NO. Similar to other City departments, the Water Fund pays for expenditures associated with shared central support services, otherwise known as overhead costs (e.g. human resources, financial management, information technology, legal services). The City utilizes the services of a third-party to annually prepare a cost allocation plan (CAP) to identify indirect central service costs, determine a reasonable basis for allocating those costs to operating activities, and then calculate the costs to be allocated to each operating department. This process follows generally accepted accounting principles.

The water utility consists of more than 140 employees and provides water to more than 125,000 people. The City’s water system is comprised of 3 water treatment plants (WTPs), 40 pump stations, 32 ground storage tanks, and approximately 1,660 miles of pipe. An enterprise of this size certainly requires functions covering financial management and billing, payroll, purchasing, fleet maintenance, human resource management, and other related central services. The table below shows Asheville’s indirect cost allocation compared to other cities in North Carolina. Asheville’s cost allocation for central services related to water are in line with other water utilities’.

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Apr
01

ACTION on #AVLH2O

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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.

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Sen. Martin Nesbitt (Dem) spoke at the end of the League of Women Voters forum in Asheville about the fate of Asheville’s water system on March 13, 2012.

The “Dr. Mumpower” Nesbitt refers to is former Asheville city councilman and former NC-11 congressional candidate, Carl Mumpower, a Republican. The “Chuck” that Nesbitt addresses is Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), representing a House committee Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe) set up to study whether or not the state should transfer control of the $177 million water system from the city of Asheville to a new regional commission controlled by the state. That would be the one in House Bill 488 introduced this week by Moffitt, McGrady and freshman Rep. Nathan Ramsey (R-Buncombe). Everyone opposing the deal knew the “study” was kabuki theater.

Since then, the city of Asheville was threatened for daring to put the transfer to a vote of the people in a nonbinding referendum. (Voters said no to the transfer by over 85 percent.) Nearly 50 North Carolina cities and towns from Murphy to Manteo saw the handwriting on the wall. They all passed a resolution by the nonpartisan League of Municipalities opposing the “forced taking” of municipal infrastructure.

Since then, state legislators – including players from the original water study committee – sponsored bills for the forced transfer of the Asheville Regional Airport from the city of Asheville, Charlotte-Douglas Airport from the city of Charlotte (citing the Asheville transfer as precedent), and the Dorthea Dix property from the city of Raleigh.

Matthews Republican, Rep. Bill Brawley, a principal sponsor of the Charlotte airport bill, explains why Republican leaders feel they must take control from locally elected officials, “We are changing the management of publicly owned assets from people who use them for the benefit of a few to protect the rights of the many.”

You may now replay the Nesbitt video above.

Slamming North Carolina’s cities, Brawley continued, “They want to have the right to do whatever they want. ‘Arrogant’ is a word I would use.”

Since last year, resident along I-77 north of Charlotte have opposed Brawley’s plan to install High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to I-77 north of downtown Charlotte. The all-Republican Iredell County Board of Commissioners voted to oppose him.

Arrogant counties.

(Cross-posted from BlueNC.)

America = EqualityTomorrow, your Buncombe County Commission will deliberate regarding equality in their health benefits and non-discrimination policy. On the agenda: Same-sex domestic partner benefits. Also likely to be discussed is whether to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the County’s employment non-discrimination policy. The latter is not on the printed agenda, and in order to consider it according to their rules, all seven Commissioners must agree to do so.

You’re encouraged to attend the meeting on Tuesday, March 19 at 4:30pm in the Commissioners’ Chambers at 200 College Street, Suite 326 in downtown Asheville. If you’d like to email the Commissioners to let them know your position, you can use this handy list:

commissioner@davidgantt.com, holly.jones@buncombecounty.org, brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, mike.fryar@buncombecounty.org, ellen.frost@buncombecounty.org, joe.belcher@buncombecounty.org, david.king@buncombecounty.org

After the jump you can read the email I sent earlier today. I’m excited to see our Commissioners have this opportunity to join the march of history toward full equality for all of our citizens.

They will not know your position unless you show up at the meeting or take a moment to write your representatives.

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Mar
14

Rediscovered History

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This story of making public these records at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office was told in the newspaper awhile back. Now “Forever Free” retells that story, making it available to a wider audience.

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Jan
19

We will not shrug our shoulders

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I had the distinct honor of being invited to speak at the 32nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast at the Grove Park Inn this morning. If you’ve never attended, I urge you to get a ticket next year. You’ll be inspired by the legends in the room, people like Oralene Simmons and other founding members of ASCORE. People who integrated our city by putting themselves on the front lines and standing up for racial justice.
I had three minutes, here’s the text of my prepared remarks:

Good Morning!

I’m Asheville City Council Member Gordon Smith, and I want to thank Ms. Oralene Simmons and the Martin Luther King Jr. Association.

Mayor Bellamy sends her regards. She’s in Washington, D.C. representing Asheville at the National Conference of Mayors and inauguration, the reinauguration, of President Barack Obama.

I’m very honored to be here to celebrate Dr. King’s vision and our place in bringing it alive in Asheville. Dr. King famously said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day, education and culture for their minds, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Three meals a day. Three meals a day.

Today, as we come together over this fine meal there are families going hungry. And let me tell you what – you don’t have to look half a world away to find them. Right now, here in our community, there are children going without their breakfast. Others have food, but they lack the nutrition necessary for a healthy, developing mind. Too many in our community either do not have the means or the knowledge to meet their most basic of needs.

Is this acceptable? Is this acceptable??

No. This is unacceptable. We all know it’s unacceptable. Dr. King teaches us that when injustice presents itself, it is our responsibility not to turn away from it, but to address it.

We can address the issue of hunger in our community. We can do so with an audacious faith that, together, we can make a better world, right wrongs, and recognize that we are one human family – In my family, we don’t let other people go hungry.

For the last year and a half sometimes it feels like all I work on for City Council is food, water, and shelter. We’ll leave housing policy for another day, and I’d rather not talk about water…

But on food? I come today with good news and a call to action! On Tuesday, your Asheville City Council will take a historic step to reduce hunger, improve the health of our community, and strengthen our local food systems with the City of Asheville Food Action Plan.

This plan, with its five goals and fourteen initiatives will create the conditions for increased food production, processing, distribution, and education.

It will mean more people growing more food. You are going to see more gardens, more farms, more markets, more grocery stores, even food growing in our parks!

And this is the part where I ask for your help.

Folks, if we are truly committed to taking audacious steps to end hunger in Asheville and Buncombe County, then it’s time we Stop Mowing and Start Growing. Stop Mowing and Start Growing.

We can convert lawns to gardens, church fields to farms. By joining together in this mission we can come together – across generations, across cultures and across faiths to turn to lives of greater independence and better health.

We can come together to feed our community, our city, our county, our spirits.

We can ensure that every child has the nutrition they need to succeed in school and in life.

This will be justice, and it’s going to take all of us to make it a reality.

We will not shrug our shoulders at the injustice of hunger. We will aspire to justice through an audacious faith in our potential to make a better world.

Please join together in supporting the City’s Food Action Plan and in ending hunger in our community.

Thank you.

AC-T:

A judge has told parties involved that he will not grant Republican Christina Merrill’s request that election officials be temporarily barred from certifying Democrat Ellen Frost as a Buncombe County commissioner.

Merrill had asked for a stay preventing Frost from being certified while she pursued her legal challenge to results which showed Frost beating Merrill by 18 votes for the second seat representing District 2 on the Board of Commissioners.

Frost and her attorney, Bob Deutsch, said this afternoon that Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway contacted parties involved to tell them he will rule in Frost’s favor.

Categories : Buncombe County, Local
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(This is a complex and multilayered subject, and I’m grateful to everyone for being patient as we examine it.)

You may have heard Councilman Bothwell’s pronouncement on New Years’ Day, but in case you didn’t:

City officials will consider whether a ban on firearms on city property could bar gun shows like one planned at the WNC Agricultural Center this weekend.

Councilman Cecil Bothwell made the call Tuesday for enforcement of the gun ordinance in the wake a shooting that killed 26 people at a Connecticut school.
[...]
Asheville for years has had an ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms on city-owned property, while gun shows have regularly been held at the city-owned Agricultural Center on Airport Road and U.S. Cellular Center downtown.

“I don’t understand why that law is not being enforced,” Bothwell said.

This conversation comes just after the city government announced that we’ll be installing a metal detector and other security protocols at Asheville City Hall, a decision that was made in advance of the Sandy Hook Massacre but which is indicative of a shift to defend innocent people from the growing specter of gun violence. The ordinance that restricts guns on city property can be read here. It seems very clear.

More information is held within NCGS 14-409.40 (Thanks to Matt Mittan for locating this):

§ 14?409.40. Statewide uniformity of local regulation.

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