One revision OKs voluntary annexations
RALEIGH — Deep disagreement within Asheville’s legislative delegation on two bills that that would strip the city of its extraterritorial jurisdiction and its right to annex and that would eliminate a funding stream for capital improvements were front and center at a meeting Thursday of the House Government Committee.
The bills passed on a voice vote of the committee, but not before their chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt, was grilled by Democrats on the committee, including Democrat Rep. Susan Fisher, who complained that neither she nor Asheville City Council were given a chance to see the legislation ahead of time. Both bills now move to the House Finance Committee.
“Why is it that just about every bill we see coming from Rep. Moffitt has to do with ending Asheville’s authority?” she said during one back-and-forth exchange with Moffitt.
Fisher said that, in the past, local bills would only be introduced if local delegations had reached a consensus on them, a process that she said, helped preserve local rule.
She said rather than legislate the change, the city and Buncombe County should be given a chance to work out a transition. She warned that the ETJ/Annexation bill sets a bad precedent.
“If this can happen in Asheville and Buncombe, it can happen in any city and county in the state,” she said.
Rep. Winkie Wilkins (D-Roxboro) asked Moffitt whether the county had requested the ETJ language. Moffitt said they had not, but residents of the ETJ had.
“Removing the ETJ is something I discussed in running for office, and this is me delivering on my promise,” Moffitt told the committee.
Moffitt said he was sensitive to concerns from residents outside Asheville and around the state who are living in ETJs where they are subjected to rules made by people they cannot vote for.
Moffitt, who is also working on legislation to ban the use of ETJs statewide, said he made Asheville City Council aware he was drafting the Asheville ETJ legislation in early January.
First-term Asheville-area Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey defended the ETJ/Annexation legislation, asserting that it was not controversial. Both he and Moffitt said the need for the ETJ was over because Buncombe County had instituted countywide zoning rules.
The bill, introduced last week, had been changed to give the county more time to draft rules for the ETJ areas. The new version ends the city’s ETJ authority on April 1, but allows its rules to remain in place for up to 120 days while the county completes work on regulations for the areas. The bill also retains the county’s representative on the city’s planning board and board of adjustment.
Another change in the bill allows for the city to initiate voluntary annexations if property owners request one, but keeps in place a ban on involuntary annexation through 2025.
Bill ending water system revenue transfers also passes
Legislation removing Asheville’s authority to transfer up to 5 percent of its utility funds to use for capital improvements also hit some snags in the committee hearing before being approved.
Fisher said the move “upsets a delicate balance” that had been worked out by the delegation and city and county leaders. She again criticized Moffitt for taking his distrust of the city to the state legislature.
Moffitt said it was unfortunate that Fisher had decided to put the “dysfunction” of the delegation on display, and he said the city was not managing its water system well.
He said it would be “legislative malpractice” not to end the transfers.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville), a co-sponsor of the legislation along with Ramsey and Moffitt, said the transfer bill would dovetail with merger legislation to be introduced later in the session. That legislation is expected turn the city’s water and sewer system into a separate multi-county authority.
Moffitt defended the move to take away the transfers, saying that when the water system was created in the 1920s, it was envisioned as a joint county-city system.
“The city of Asheville has tried to erase that bit of history,” he said.
The House committee also approved a third Asheville related bill, which would allow Buncombe County to develop design-build guidelines for an economic development project at the Sweeten Creek Industrial Park.