State Rep. Tim Moffitt tells Xpress that a bill studying the possible transferof Asheville’s water system will involve local input, and asserts critics are mistaken in declaring he intends to seize the system without compensation. The bill initially called for taking the water system and giving it to the Metropolitan Sewerage District, but was revised yesterday.
“I’m looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be interesting in regards to taking a walk through our history, getting the actual facts put together in a concise document that really shows what county residents have invested in the system, what city residents have invested in the system and approach this as an asset of the people, not any particular government body,” Moffitt, a first-term Republican, says.
Asked why, if he intended for the proposal to be a study bill, he didn’t initially file it in that format, Moffitt says “well, you get jammed up on schedules, you can only get so much done.”
“I really wasn’t going to do anything with regards to the water system, but when they [the city] decided to raise those rates, I decided to draft something quickly just to get in under the filing deadline,” he adds.
Asheville City Council approved a rate increase for commercial, multifamily and industrial users for the coming fiscal year, though single-family residential rates remained the same.
Moffitt also objects to critics and news reports that had used the term “seize” for the bill’s initial. While the initial legislation didn’t mention any compensation for the transfer of the city’s water system, Moffitt tells Xpress that if the water system is taken from the city to MSD or a completely independent authority in future legislation (the only three scenarios he sees as practical), the city will be compensated.
“Once we get through auditing the entire system, and really determine what dollars were used, ratepayer dollars or city resident tax dollars, whatever city taxpayers have invested in the system absolutely considered for compensation,” Moffitt says. “That language of ‘seizing’ was rather strong, and not the intent of the bill at all.”
“There’s no attempt to privatize the system,” he emphasizes.
Shortly after the bill’s filing earlier this month, Moffitt said his intention was to drive a dialogue. A major complaint from members of Council, who were drafting up a proposed resolution declaring their opposition to Moffitt’s proposal as it went to committee yesterday, is that he didn’t consult with local officials before proposing the bill. Going forward, he says, “members of City Council, County Commissioners and MSD will be part of the study commission. I have communicated with City Council, they received a copy of the study bill prior to committee.” The process, he estimates, will take about a year.
“The process, which seems to be people’s main frustration with me, is really a two-way street,” Moffitt says. “The city didn’t consider contacting me before raising rates on businesses or residents. I didn’t complain about that, but process is a two-way street.”
Asked if he believed the city should consult him beforehand about municipal water rates, a matter over which localities have control (unlike some other types of taxes and fees that must meet General Assembly approval), he replied “no, the cities are local government units, and they have that authority.”
But the cities, and I’m not just talking about Asheville, need to recognize that their policies, over the years, are contributory to the job crisis we currently have,” Moffitt adds. “Municipal jobs have fled the jobs into the counties. Where municipal services are required to serve industry, when they make policy that affects those services, those businesses leave the state. So we take very seriously from Raleigh, the actions of local government units to make sure that they’re not doing anything that’s costing local jobs. A local job is, in essence, a state job. It affects everyone.”
The bill itself doesn’t single Asheville out by name, instead referring to larger cities with water systems who reside entirely Metropolitan Sewerage Districts. Moffitt noted that there are other bills, but as for the study affecting any other city, “I don’t think so, it could end up attached to another bill as an overlap, but I don’t think that will happen. Our [water system] is too unique, as far as the Sullivan Acts, the Depression-era bonds.”
Moffitt says he hasn’t gotten much response from constituents on the bill, “there seems to be handful of people in the city who are active about everything that comes out of Raleigh. By and large though, people just want clean, safe drinking water,” he adds. “How it’s managed is immaterial to them, by and large. What it costs is material to them.”
The legislator has also clashed with local officials over legislation rolling back annexations, changing the way the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is elected (which passed the assembly), and a proposal to transfer the city’s airport to an independent authority.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter