There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the water merger by all six candidates for Asheville city council.
(candidate answers below taken from livetweeting by @DavidForbes )
First question: The latest Court of Appeals ruling was unanimous in transferring the water system from the City of Asheville to the Metropolitan Sewerage District. If this ultimately happens, how will you make up the loss of revenues and cash flow produced by the service?
Tim Peck: The City of Asheville would not experience any loss of revenue or cash flow produced by operating the public enterprise. It is illegal for the city to gain revenue or profit from the water system.
Haynes: hope we’ll win, if not will deal closely w county and fight to prevent system being privatized.
Tim Peck: By law, the water system cannot be privatized.
Hunt: water $ goes to help fund gen services it uses (legal, payroll), making that up will be tough. State rule big negative.
Tim Peck: Water revenues can only go to water system support services.
Lee: amt from water loss would come out to about $2 million, weigh heavily. One thing wouldn’t do so soon is prop tax/fee hike.
Tim Peck: There will be no loss. Water system revenues have to go toward operation and maintenance of the water system. The city makes no money from the public enterprise.
Mayfield: should use every resource to stop taking of system. Won’t back down on city needs in face of Raleigh.
Tim Peck: Every resource?! Like unlimited taxpayer money?
Simerly: need to keep fighting, water system driven Asheville industry like brewing, coming here because of clean, pure water.
Tim Peck: The Water Act reorganizes management of the water system and changes nothing about the supply.
Young: should take every legal recourse. Tough times ahead if lose. Ideal wld be tda funds, but if not, may need cuts.
Tim Peck: Water system revenues do not go to the General Fund and do not fund services or special projects. Those revenues must stay within the system.
After brief opening statements from each candidate, CIBO President Rod Hudgins, who acted as moderator, asked: “The latest Court of Appeals ruling was unanimous in transferring the water system from the City of Asheville to the MSD (Metropolitan Sewerage District). If this ultimately happens, how will you make up the loss of revenues and cash flow produced by the service?”
Brian Haynes expressed his hope that the city will win in its fight to retain control of the system. If it does not, then the city should work with the county to ensure that the water system does not become privatized. That would be “the worst thing that could happen,” Haynes concluded.
Current council member and Vice Mayor Marc Hunt reported that revenue from the water system currently accounts for a little less than a third of all city revenue, and that those system-related revenues defray some of the overhead costs shared among city departments. City Manager Gary Jackson began contingency planning for the possible transfer of the system two years ago, said Hunt, but if it happens, “it is going to be tough.” There are some tentative thoughts around how that would happen.
Rich Lee said the city would take a financial hit of about $2 million in the event of a transfer. Coming on the heels of last year’s state-mandated discontinuation of the business privilege license tax (which resulted in a loss of $1.5 million), a water system transfer would be another blow to the city’s ability to generate revenue. However, Lee “won’t contemplate another tax increase” immediately after last year’s increase in the property tax rate, and said the city will have to find other places to make up the difference.
“The city must continue to invest in doing whatever we can to save the water system,” Julie Mayfield contributed. If the transfer occurs, the city will have to look for opportunities for savings. Mayfield offered a caveat: “I am not interested in backing up the city or stopping progress on the many needs we have around affordable housing and transportation infrastructure.”
Lindsey Simerly pointed out that control of Asheville’s water system affects much more than just city revenues. Employers and the jobs they create are attracted to the city by its plentiful supply of high quality water, she said.
Keith Young agreed that every legal avenue for fighting the transfer must be exhausted. If, despite those efforts, control of the system goes to the MSD, Young suggested looking to funds from the hotel occupancy tax administered by the Tourism Development Authority. Young acknowledged that recent efforts to spark conversations about funneling some of those funds (which are mandated by the state government to be used for travel and tourism-related advertising) toward infrastructure and public safety costs have not yielded results.