Asheville’s water system was front and center during City Council’s Dec. 11 work session/regular meeting. Council members heard reports from Raftelis Financial Consultants concerning a proposed merger with the Metropolitan Sewerage District. Contradicting earlier findings by MSD’s consultants, Raftelis concluded:
• Water customers and city residents would pay more under the merger; sewer customers would see savings.
• Losing the water system would cost the city about $3.7 million annually. • A local share-services agreement that avoided the considerable costs of a full merger would save more money.
Raftelis analyst Doug Bean, a former Asheville city manager with extensive experience managing water systems, said his company has never seen a forced merger, and that current operating practices seem mostly in line with other city- and county-run systems in N.C., whose staff are watching the local struggle closely. Bean also said:
• MSD officials erred in setting the proposed compensation to the city at $57 million, using a method that isn't customarily applied to water system transfers and tends to understate system value.
• Although he’s not a professional appraiser, his own "back of the envelope" calculation pegged reasonable compensation at about $177 million.
In response, Council members:
• Unanimously reaffirmed their opposition to the Legislature, led by Rep. Tim Moffitt, forcing the issue.
• Said they’re committed to working out local partnerships.
• Beefed up the conservation easement on the watershed, tightening restrictions on what kinds of activities are allowed.
In November, 86 percent of city voters opposed selling or leasing the water system. And on Dec. 8, about 100 people protested the possible merger at a Republican fundraiser in Asheville.
"This is not just about Asheville," noted Mayor Terry Bellamy, saying other cities could see similar state-driven mergers if this one goes through.