Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that would take away Asheville's authority over its water system and move it under a regional authority is scheduled for a House vote Wednesday after cruising through a House Finance meeting Tuesday morning.
House Bill 488 never mentions Asheville. Instead, it says:
All assets, real and personal, tangible and intangible, and all outstanding debts of any public water system operated by a subdivision of the State and body politic that serves a population greater than one hundred twenty thousand (120,000) people, according to data submitted pursuant to G.S. 143‑355(l) for the year 2011, that is not operated as either a joint or regional public water system, shall be transferred to the metropolitan sewerage district in the county in which the public water system is located, to be operated as a Metropolitan Water and Sewerage District.
The vagueness of the language troubled Wake County lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, who expressed concern that the bill could force Wake County municipalities to cede ownership of their water systems, too.
"I wouldn’t agree to turn over the assets of Apex and Cary to Raleigh," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake.
"It’s really a local bill, but it’s phrased generally to attempt to get around the (state) constitution," Stam said, adding that he would introduce an amendment on the House floor to remove Wake County from the bill's purview.
Rep, Deborah Ross, D-Wake, asked committee leaders to send the measure to a Judiciary Committee to work through the legal issues.
“There’s no rush,” she said. “We should do it the right way, even though I’m not sure it’s the world’s greatest idea. But please, let’s take care of Wake County.”
Supporters of the bill say regionalizing Asheville's water system will lead to lower rates and better management. They say the city has been using a small portion of water system revenue to supplement its municipal budget.
Opponents say it's an unwarranted and uncompensated seizure by the state of a valuable asset that city taxpayers have funded for years.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, was not re-referred. It's on the agenda for a House vote Wednesday.