Asheville water bill heads to House Finance Tuesday

Posted March 25, 2013
Updated March 26, 2013

— The House Finance Committee will hear a proposal Tuesday to repeal a law allowing Asheville to use some water revenue for road and other infrastructure repairs related to its water system.

House Bill 252, sponsored by Rep.Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, would reverse a 2009 law that allowed the city to use 5 percent of its water revenues for infrastructure related to water repairs, such as fixing torn-up streets and sidewalks.

The fight over water in the Asheville area dates back to the 1920s. A succession of laws, known as the Sullivan Acts, was passed to restrict the city's control of its water system and to clarify the relationship between the city and surrounding areas. The city is not allowed to charge suburban users higher water rates than city users pay. Still, city and regional leaders have long been at odds over the management of the system.

Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, sponsored the 2009 measure. She says H252 may be related to efforts to take possession of the water utility away from the city and give it to a regional authority. Legislation to accomplish that task is expected to filed in the next couple of weeks by Moffitt, who represents areas outside the city of Asheville.

"It is not a consensus bill. It is another effort by Rep. Moffitt  to govern Asheville from Raleigh, and it has to do with this longstanding opinion – not currently based in reality – that the city of Asheville is using water revenue to support its general budget, which is not true," Fisher said.

Fisher says other cities in North Carolina are allowed unrestricted use of water funds for water-related infrastructure repairs. The 2009 law allowed Asheville to use up to 5 percent. She says repealing it will hurt Asheville's efforts to finish the Azalea Road soccer complex.

Fisher says it's representative of legislation seeking to curb cities' power across the state.

"It's just a very threatening atmosphere for cities," she said. "I hope cities all over the state are getting the picture that this isn't just Asheville. It could happen to anybody, anywhere in North Carolina."

"It's a slow taking of assets," Fisher said. "It's a real power trip."

She says Asheville's chief financial officer and other officials would be in the audience to answer questions at Tuesday's meeting.


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