Asheville’s going to court: Council votes to sue state over water bill

At a special meeting tonight, May 7, Asheville City Council members voted unanimously to sue the state of North Carolina over House Bill 488, a bill forcibly transferring the city’s water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.

After a brief closed session, Council members emerged and City Attorney Bob Oast presented a resolution authorizing staff to proceed with a lawsuit to halt the legislation, which mandates a May 15 transfer. Oast cited “a number of legal, constitutional, and practical issues” with HB 488 as the reason for the lawsuit. The bill has passed both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly and is currently awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s review and possible signature.

“That leaves us very little time to address the issues it raises,” Oast said.

“I don’t believe we should have to sue the state over this, because we’ve been improving our system,” Mayor Terry Bellamy said, noting her conviction that the legislature’s actions leave the city little choice.

After the vote, Bellamy told reporters, “Since I’ve been mayor, what have we done wrong with the system? … There is no way we can transfer an almost $1 billion asset by May 15 to a new authority. Who’s the director? Who do we sign it over to?”

She added, “We feel pretty strong,” about the city’s case. … Municipalities from across the state will file amicus briefs. We will not be standing alone.”

Council’s resolution cited issues with transferring the city’s bonds to a new authority under MSD and Asheville voters “overwhelmingly” opposing such a transfer in a non-binding referendum last year.

“This course of action is the only rational response to an irresponsible effort,” Council member Gordon Smith told Xpress after the vote. “Just the debt and bond issues will take months and months to sort out, not to mention that the authority that we’re supposed to give the water system to doesn’t exist yet. They’ve crafted a bill that’s impossible to execute.”

He added his thoughts on why legislators filed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt and supported by Reps. Nathan Ramsey and Chuck McGrady: “It’s just a case of vendetta politics.”


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5 thoughts on “Asheville’s going to court: Council votes to sue state over water bill

  1. RavenRavinoff

    Oast cited “a number of legal, constitutional, and practical issues” with the legislation as the reason for the lawsuit.

    There is most assuredly “constitutional issues” with this bill. Per the North Carolina Constitution ( the General Assembly CANNOT enact local laws.

    Sec. 24. Limitations on local, private, and special legislation.

    (1) Prohibited subjects. The General Assembly shall not enact any local, private, or special act or resolution:

    (a) Relating to health, sanitation, and the abatement of nuisances

    What is a local bill?

    (6) Local bills. Every bill that applies in fewer than 15 counties shall be read three times in each house before it becomes law and shall be signed by the presiding officers of both houses

    This bill affects one county; Buncombe. This is a local bill written as a state bill in an attempt to skirt our constitution by the very people who have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution.

    A Republican member, Paul Stam (Wake County), admitted, during the floor debate, that HB488 is a LOCAL bill masquerading as a state bill.

    This description from someone who was there gives you an idea of what happened when Stam said this:

    “Apparently it was all going according to plan, until Paul Stam got up & said what he said (?the way you?re doing this thing is unconstitutional and oh by the way, don?t take my town?s assets?), after which the room then ?exploded into chaos.? Moffitt McGrady & Ramsey looked like they had seen a ghost & went over to Stam & brought the staff over & huddled around him for 5 minutes, while the rest of the room collapsed into disorder.”

    You can listen for yourself here:

    The relevant part is at 30:10.

    At 16:25 Moffitt himself says: “This is resolving a long-term issue back home.” He ADMITTED that this is about Asheville!

    At 23:15, when Moffitt is asked how many systems in NC would fall under this bill, he answers it will ONLY affect Buncombe, Henderson, and Asheville.

    In fact the entire debate is about how this affects ASHEVILLE.

    This is a LOCAL bill. Thus HB488 is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

    This lawsuit is not only necessary but viable. Thank you Council members for standing up for the citizens of Asheville.

  2. Meiling Dai

    This case will probably land up before
    the N.C. Supreme Court for a decision.
    Perhaps if Asheville had not cancelled its
    agreement with Buncombe and Henderson Counties, forming an independent regional authority to manage the water system (2005), the city would not be in the position it finds itself today with its back against the wall. The motive behind the agreement cancellation by the city, some say, was to charge differential water rates and to initiate voluntary annexation.

  3. bsummers

    Thank you City Council, for doing the right thing. Fight like hell. This impacts more than just the City’s budget, more than just water rates, more than just local political squabbles.

    Does the State own all municipal-run utilities? Does the State own all the water? Can the State step in and grab any local infrastructure, and hand it over to people who didn’t pay for it? Can the State require people in one County to subsidize the growth in another County? Is water a resource to be shared by all, or a commodity to be controlled by a few?

  4. bsummers

    “some say”

    Ah yes, the good old Foxian phrase…

    Well some who aren’t afraid to be named, like the independent analysts from the failed 2005 mediation, say this:

    A case in point was the split between city and county leaders in 2003 over a fee increase to pay for badly needed water system repairs. Asheville was pushing strongly for the increase but Buncombe County would not go along with the fee. This lack of control of the system contributed to the city

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