Update The legislation has now been introduced. House bill 488, the "Regionalization of Public Utilities" bill, is as bad as we could have imagined. It does not mention "Asheville" even once, but the first half of the bill clearly targets only Asheville's water system. There is no compensation for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of city assets, and a token and virtually worthless line about "no privatization", which could be erased by a future NCGA as easily as they are currently erasing 'go-slow' provisions on fracking which were put in place less than a year ago. It also grants neighboring Henderson County three seats on Buncombe's MSD, for a very small region of northern Henderson that is served by MSD. For perspective, the City of Asheville only has three seats on MSD, but covers roughly 60% of the customers. This change reduces Asheville's representation on the future governing Board controlling the entire regions water and sewer, to 20%. BTW, Henderson County Commissioners said after H488 was introduced, that only three seats was inadequate, and they are planning to demand 50% of the total MSD seats if/when the bill comes up in the Senate. (Henderson County is represented in the Senate by Sen. Tom Apodoca, the powerful Senate Rules Chairman).

Worse for the rest of NC, the bulk of the bill is taken up by the creation of a whole new category of State-chartered agency: the Metropolitan Water and Sewer District. Any County can now establish an authority that can be the recipient of stolen municipal infrastructure, just like Asheville's. We are the test case in a radical re-shaping of the relationship between Citizens > Local Government > The State. Welcome to the era of "The State owns all municipal infrastructure, along with the water, and can transfer any of it at will to any preferred political entity."

Original post:

North Carolina's General Assembly is about to take the unprecedented step of seizing a municipal-run water system from a City, which in this case has owned & operated it for over 100 years. Members of the NCGA have signaled their intention to introduce legislation in early 2013 that would force the City of Asheville to turn over not only its water distribution system, but control of its pristine 20,000 acre watershed, to the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County (MSD). Indications are that the City of Asheville will likely receive no compensation for the taking of these assets.

  • There is nothing justifying this - the system has high marks from the State for water quality and management, water rates and fiscal policies are on a par with other utilities in the State, and there are no outstanding disputes with neighboring jurisdictions, including Buncombe County. 
  • Both MSD and the City of Asheville have done extensive studies that reveal that there would be no net economic benefit from a forced merger, in fact there would be severe negative impact to the budget and therefore the taxpayers of the City of Asheville. Additionally, if MSD were forced to absorb sewer systems from neighboring Henderson County, as has been suggested as part of this planned merger, the costs of upgrading and expanding those systems will be borne primarily by Buncombe County ratepayers.
  • A November referendum for Asheville voters yielded an 86% 'No' vote to the question of the City turning over its water system to an outside entity. 

Despite these facts, and the repeated, unanimous opposition of Asheville City Council, the legislators involved (none of whom actually represent Asheville) have signaled their intention to move ahead with a forced transfer of Asheville's water supply to an unelected Board, whose composition and authority is controlled by the NCGA. Furthermore, the fact that the legislation dramatically changing Buncombe Countys water and sewer governance is being drafted by a member from neighboring Henderson County, which stands to benefit greatly from the changes he is proposing, adds another layer of concern about the fairness and integrity of this process.

The arguments being made, and the precedents being set in the NCGA to justify this non-compensated 'taking' of a municipal-run utility, could conceivably be used to seize the assets of any municipality in the State. Control of assets like water and sewer infrastructure is vital to municipalities for many reasons. Regionalized control of resources is not bad in and of itself, if it is achieved voluntarily, to the benefit of all partners. However, the manner in which Asheville is being forced by the State to turn over their assets in an arrangement that economically punishes some while rewarding others, shows that the true motivation is not a fair, sustainable partnership between neighbors. 

Whatever the true motivation is: officials, residents, taxpayers and ratepayers from all Towns, Cities, and Counties in North Carolina should consider this a warning that they could be next.

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR NCGA REPRESENTATIVE and Governor McCrory to voice your objection to the General Assembly of the State North Carolina's legislative takeover of local resources!!!

Also, contact YOUR city council or county commissioners to encourage them to support Asheville/Buncombe's fight against a state takeover that could happen to YOUR area next!

From the April 19, 2012  NC League of Municipalities statement:

"The proposed regionalism of the City of Asheville’s water system being discussed by the Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee runs counter to the principle of cities being left to determine how to manage their own enterprises. Any mandated merger clouds the respective roles of local government and the General Assembly, sets a bad precedent for the future for all cities owning and operating any municipal water or sewer services, undermines the confidence of municipalities to move forward to make substantial and needed investments in their systems, and calls into question the authority of the state legislature to arbitrarily transfer the assets of one unit of local government to another."