A flurry of activity by Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners proved fruitless in resolving the ongoing municipal water war. The two bodies were reacting to a bill advanced in Raleigh by the local legislative delegation that could only go forward if Asheville dropped its legal challenge to the state concerning the Sullivan Act.
During a series of secret meetings held over the past several months between Council members and commissioners, the two sides reportedly came close to resolution of their differences, but annexation proved to be a sticking point. There is apparently agreement on the transfer of property from the city back to the county, including the Civic Center, the Civic Center parking garage, the municipal golf course, the WNC Nature Center and McCormick Field. But the city wants to require annexation of anyone within a mile of the city who obtains water service in the future. The county demands that the area be limited to a half-mile out.
While the difference between the two measurements may appear arbitrary, it may be of note that the one-mile designation includes The Cliffs at High Carolina and The Ramble and Biltmore Lake, while the shorter distance does not.
The proposed legislation stipulated the half-mile measure preferred by the county, and the city said “no” during a closed session held Wednesday.
The secret negotiations have ducked North Carolina’s open-meetings law by including less than a quorum from either body. A source close to the negotiations told Xpress those meetings involved two members from each entity. The separate closed sessions held this week included all members. On Monday night, commissioners held a two-hour session with attorney Bob Long and County Attorney Joe Connolly. Exiting that meeting, they took no action other than scheduling a second special session for Thursday, Aug. 2, at 7 a.m. The city’s closed session with City Attorney Bob Oast was equally lengthy and produced similar results. At that point, commissioners cancelled the Thursday session.
Time was of the essence, because the General Assembly was due to conclude its current session on Thursday. Failure to reach agreement here has evidently killed the proposal in Raleigh.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer