The following is a transcript of Representative Nathan Ramsey’s remarks on the Floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives on Thursday, April 11, 2013 in support of House Bill 488:
Oftentimes, when we’re in the General Assembly, things get cast in a partisan view and it’s ‘one party versus another party.’ Any of you that have served in local government realize that when the rubber meets the road, issues aren’t always partisan and they cross ideological boundaries.
The issue we’re talking about today is not a partisan issue back home. It may turn out to be a partisan issue down here — that remains to be seen.
Back home, I had the opportunity to serve eight years as Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners (from 2000 to 2008) and I served with four other wonderful people who all happened to be members of the other party. From 2005 to 2008, that board of commissioners unanimously agreed that the effect of what this bill will allow us to do in our community is to consolidate our water system, sewer system, and work over some regional problems that we faced over many years.
I will not give you the full history of the water system and Asheville and Buncombe County; there’s a handout I’ve placed on your desks and you have the opportunity to read that. And if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer those.
But, this is an effort to bring our community together. I know the city has some concerns about this bill and are opposed to this bill. But, at the end of the day, this bill will have the effect in Asheville — and Buncombe County and Henderson County — of solving a lot of long-term issues.
I wanted to quote from April 16, 2003 from the Citizen-Times. At that time, a member of the water authority, Bonnie Cloniger, wrote to the chairman of the water authority — and for 25 years Asheville and Buncombe County had a water authority and in 2005 the city chose to terminate that water authority, which they had the legal right to do so — but Ms. Cloniger stated: “It has become a very frustrating board to serve on in this water authority, many of our problems are due to our inability to be a true authority and the city coming across as water owners.”
Also, I’d like to cite from the Mountain Xpress, the Citizen-Times and the Times-News out of Hendersonville did a joint article — and made many regional leaders in our community and Hazel Fobes — who has since passed away — Ms. Fobes was a long-time environmentalist in our community. In the late 80’s, when we tried to put a water intake on the French Broad River, Ms. Fobes opposed that and was able to defeat a bond referendum in our community to do that, and Ms. Fobes, in this article, she says,
“Speaking as a concerned citizen with years of regular attendance at the water authority board meetings, the present water agreement should be amended, abolished or re-written to satisfy the following concerns: to create a true, independent regional water authority by legislative action of the North Carolina General Assembly, this will eliminate additional costs we pay in street improvements and also create an authority with control over its budget and allow for badly needed repairs to the water system to proceed.” — Hazel Fobes
So, the individuals that I’ve quoted, all of those individuals are die-hard Democrats. They are members of the other party — but in our community they felt like that was the right solution. The members that I served with on the board of commissioners — many of them, several of them were City of Asheville residents — felt like this was the best solution for our community.
So, I want to make it clear that this is not a partisan matter. The recent history of this matter, in 2005, the City of Asheville and the City Council, terminated the water agreement they had with Buncombe County — and they had the legal right to do that — what happened was this General Assembly enacted some legislation that affected our water system.
The City of Asheville sued the State of North Carolina. The city and county spent about a half a million dollars in legal fees in that litigation, and the Appellate Court ruled unanimously that the General Assembly had that authority. That was a time when the General Assembly was controlled by the other party. So, as I stated earlier, this is not a partisan matter.
The city has expressed concerns about the financial impact to the city budget by this legislation and their ongoing discussions with the county and others in our community to address those impacts. That’s what our 1981 water agreement that was between the city and county did, and I’m confident that our community can come together to address that, to treat those that live within the City of Asheville and those who live outside the City of Asheville in a fair manner.
I would also note that for the past approximately 20 years, we’ve had a regional sewer utility in our community that all the small towns, the City of Asheville, and Buncombe County have participated in and that has been transparent, been financially accountable; and there’s no one in our community that serves on these elected boards who will publicly state that the regional sewer authority that we have has not been in the best interest of our community.
About 20 years ago, we had sewage overflows into our rivers, we had moratoriums on development because we had a very dilapidated structure — and over the last 20 years, our regional sewer authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to repair that. So, if this legislation is passed, this will allow for the orderly creation of a utility where we can all work together, we can solve this long history of contention. I commend the bill to this body.