NCMatters: Moffitt bill targets Asheville water system

State Rep. Tim Moffitt filed legislation May 4 that would seize Asheville’s water system and give it to the Metropolitan Sewerage District — without informing either City Council or MSD beforehand.

Although it doesn’t mention Asheville by name, the bill specifies “a city with a population of over 75,000 … within a county with a population of 200,000 or over.” If approved, the legislation would give the city one year to transfer its entire water system to MSD and bar Asheville from ever operating a water system again.

The Buncombe County Republican called the bill a “starting point” for what he hopes will be a productive process for determining the best way to manage the water system. “It’s designed to drive the discussion,” he said. “Water has been a contentious issue in our area since the Great Depression. And it seems to be an issue that the city of Asheville uses to determine what their forced annexation policy is going to be.”

Vice Mayor Brownie Newman said he, Council member Esther Manheimer and City Manager Gary Jackson met with Moffitt for 30 minutes on May 2, and the legislator didn’t mention the bill.

“It’s baffling,” said Newman. “When people have traveled four hours to see you, to talk about the issues we need to work on, it’s strange to not even mention that there’s going to be a bill to seize a water system that the city has operated for the last 100 years. … It’s frankly pretty outrageous that a legislator would propose such a far-reaching piece of legislation without consulting us.”

Moffitt said he’d drafted the bill but hadn’t planned to introduce it. “But when the city decided to raise the rates on its commercial customers … in this economy … I really felt that was inappropriate timing.”

Moffitt said the meeting with city leaders was informal, and he felt it more appropriate to bring it up during a May 4 discussion with Mayor Bellamy. “We had a nice discussion about it. … We disagree on this issue. And I reassured her that this was not something I was going to jam through.”

Russell, who also serves on the MSD board, said he found out about the bill the night it was filed, via an email from Newman.

“I had no clue, and I don’t think anybody did,” said Russell. “The city’s spent tens of millions of dollars investing in the infrastructure for our Water Department; we’ve done a lot of work over the last seven years to repair it and make good our promise when we took over the authority. To suddenly have it legislatively stripped out from under us without any public or open dialogue is certainly not a process I’m a big fan of.” He added, “If you want to hand it to the MSD, you may want to see if they can handle it in the first place.”

The city regained control of the water system in 2005, after the dissolution of the Regional Water Authority. Shortly afterward, the state passed the Sullivan Acts, sharply restricting what rates Asheville (alone among the state’s cities) can charge, preventing it from using water service to force annexation and limiting how it can spend system revenues (the latter restriction was later relaxed somewhat).

“I simply see no basis for this — there’s been no calls from anyone in the community to do something like this,” noted Newman. “Since [2005] there’s really been no controversy about how the system has been managed.” He added, “We’re going to fight this.”

Moffitt said the legislation’s wording isn't final, and he believes the city should be compensated for its investment in the system; as written, however, the bill makes no such provision.

Moffitt’s bill is the latest proposed state legislation seeking to take assets from a local government, reverse moves it has made or change the way it functions. He’s also proposed bills reversing the city’s 2005 Biltmore Lake annexation and changing (without a local referendum) the way the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is elected (the House has already approved both those bills).

In addition, Moffitt joined local Democratic Reps. Patsy Keever and Susan Fisher in proposing legislation forcing the city to turn the Asheville Regional Airport over to an independent authority. The Buncombe County commissioners unanimously opposed the electoral changes, and City Council unanimously condemned the airport legislation.

But Russell, an independent, added: “The GOP has put up with the Democrats forcing legislation for 200 years. It should be no surprise some things are going to come out of this assembly a little more forceful than it should be. … I just wish we could sit down and say there’s a better way for this sort of legislation to be drafted: A little bipartisan help would be good.”

— See our latest state news online at mountainx.com/special/ncmatters.

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One thought on “NCMatters: Moffitt bill targets Asheville water system

  1. Barry Summers

    Alas, Moffitt isn’t the only Crazy in the Statehouse. Senator Andrew Brock (Deputy Republican Whip), in one week introduced these bills:

    S593 AN ACT TO REPEAL THE ANDREW JACKSON HISTORIC MEMORIAL COMMITTEE

    That’s right, there is a committee somewhere working on a memorial to Andrew Jackson, the putative founder of the Democratic Party. Sen. Brock wants them to knock it off. Maybe it’s because Jackson once said: “Our Federal Union – It Must Be Preserved” or (paraphrased): “no state may vote to nullify federal law”…

    S599 AN ACT TO AMEND THE LAWS GOVERNING RENDERING PLANTS AND OPERATIONS AND TO BRING THE COLLECTION AND PROCESSING OF WASTE KITCHEN GREASE WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF THE ACT

    If you collect kitchen grease for biofuels, you have to pay the state $100 annually, tell them in detail everywhere you collect waste kitchen grease, and you have to carry $1,000,000 in liability insurance.

    S406 AN ACT TO REPEAL THE REQUIREMENT THAT A PERSON OBTAIN A PERMIT TO RECEIVE, SELL, PURCHASE, OR OTHERWISE TRANSFER A CROSSBOW.

    Self explanatory.

    S315 AN ACT TO PERMIT CAMPAIGN SIGNS IN STATE HIGHWAY RIGHTS-OF-WAY WITH REASONABLE TIME, PLACE, AND MANNER RESTRICTIONS.

    You have to apply for a permit from the state before you can put out political campaign signs, and you can’t put a sign in a state-owned right-of-way without first getting permission from any residence, business, or church that fronts the state-owned land. The same restrictions would apply to any city-owned land in a municipality that adopts the state regs.

    S225 AN ACT TO AMEND THE STATUTORY REQUIREMENT FOR A POLITICAL PARTY TO MAINTAIN BALLOT ELIGIBILITY; TO PROVIDE THAT THE RESULTS OF PRIMARIES OF POLITICAL PARTIES WITH LESS THAN TEN PERCENT OF THE REGISTERED VOTERS ARE DETERMINED BY A PLURALITY UNLESS THE PARTY CHOOSES TO NOMINATE BY CONVENTION; TO CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF A “POLITICAL PARTY” BY REDUCING THE NUMBER OF SIGNATURES REQUIRED FOR THE FORMATION OF A NEW POLITICAL PARTY; TO REDUCE THE NUMBER OF SIGNATURES REQUIRED FOR UNAFFILIATED CANDIDATES TO OBTAIN BALLOT ACCESS ELIGIBILITY; AND TO ELIMINATE THE NEED FOR PETITIONS FOR WRITE-IN CANDIDACY.

    It’s a little byzantine, but my guess is they could’ve re-named this: “AN ACT TO HELP THE NC GREEN PARTY TO TORPEDO BARRACK OBAMA’S CHANCE OF A SECOND TERM” (Sorry Greens – but that’s the way they see it).

    S632 AN ACT TO REQUIRE UPGRADED SECURITY AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES AT THE STATE LEGISLATURE

    Spend $6,000,000 to put in metal detectors and additional security to the Statehouse, including a secure covered walkway from the Legislative Building to the Legislative Office Building, so our elected Representatives never have to actually confront us unprotected.

    S594 AN ACT TO ALLOW THE TRANSPORTATION AND POSSESSION OF A DANGEROUS WEAPON OR SUBSTANCE DURING A RIOT OR DECLARED STATE OF EMERGENCY

    When there’s a riot or declared state of emergency, people should be allowed to run there toting guns.

    And my favorite:

    S765 AN ACT TO PROHIBIT HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS FROM QUESTIONING PATIENTS ABOUT LAWFUL ACTIVITY RELATED TO FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION

    If you’re shot while lawfully exercising your duties driving the Yankees out, you can’t be questioned by the doctor on how you got a National Guard-issued round in your butt.

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