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“Healthywealthy” by threestooges.net. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb via Wikipedia

No, this post is not an attempt to personally disparage the folks running North Carolina government. Rather it is an attempt to conjure up an image that captures the impact of the decisions that state leaders have been inflicting of late on their brethren and sistren at the local level.

As some readers will recall, The Three Stooges were an outlandish and slapstick comedy trio that had a long run in the middle part of the last century. In one of the trio’s recurring bits, one Stooge (usually Moe – pictured on the left) would slap or punch the second Stooge, who would then, in turn punch the third member of the group. The third and most hapless Stooge would then turn beside him and find that he only had thin air to punch.

Sadly, this comedy bit pretty well captures the essence of what’s going on in North Carolina government right now: Whether it’s the McCrory-Pope team or the General Assembly that starts the punching, the ones left flailing at thin air are local governments.

For the latest classic example, check out the bill under consideration in the state Senate during the waning days of the 2014 session that would hamstring local governments in their ability to raise local sales taxes for important needs. While Senators sought to alter some of the the impacts of the bill last evening, it still promises to have a deleterious impact — especially on big counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. And, of course, this comes on the heels of several previous haymakers in which state leaders have slashed state support for locals.

The bottom line is that the overarching policy of the current conservative state leadership when it comes to local government is this: We’re all for local control that’s closest to the voters — except when we’re not (i.e. any time anyone at the local level even thinks about doing something — like raising taxes to provide essential public services — with which we disagree). SLAP!!!

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In a victory for local rule, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr. yesterday struck down a 2013 law transferring control of the Asheville water system to a newly-created regional entity as unconstitutional.

As reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Manning said the law violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law because it “transfers the water system to another entity without any rational basis for doing so.”

The act would not change the use of the assets of the system, “will not result in any higher quality of water” and would give the system to “an entity that has never owned or operated a public water supply and delivery system,” Manning wrote.

The law would result in an “unlawful taking” of assets that the city runs similarly to a private corporation and that are entitled to similar protections, Manning wrote.

The state cannot require such a transfer of a private company’s assets and the water law “is not a valid exercise of the sovereign power of the legislative branch of government (or the state of North Carolina) to take or condemn property for public use.”

Even if the law were to be found valid, Asheville “is entitled to be paid just compensation” for the system, Manning wrote.

An appeal of Manning’s ruling is likely.

For more on the case, read here .

 

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Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. is hearing arguments this morning on the parties’ motions for judgement in the dispute over the Asheville city water system  – one of a number of turf wars between the state and local authorities arising from the General Assembly’s 2013 long session. (The Charlotte airport and the Dorothea Dix park in Raleigh are also in play.)

In May 2013, the General Assembly created the  Metropolitan Water and Sewage District and immediately transferred Asheville’s water system to that district.  The city then filed a lawsuit in Wake County and obtained a temporary injunction from Manning. After further arguments by attorneys, Manning extended that injunction in September.

 A ruling in the case will have obvious implications for the city, but it may also  touch more broadly on the question of municipal self-rule. Cities across the state and the League of Municipalities agree with Asheville that the state is treading on dangerous ground when it comes to concepts of local rule.

In this issue brief, the league noted these points:

  • Local communities should decide how to meet the water/wastewater needs of a local area, and how to pay for those investments – not lawmakers in Raleigh.
  • Cities should be able to operate water/wastewater enterprises like a business, without external interference from the state legislature. Decisions over rates, extensions, financing, and service should all be left to the discretion of system owners.
  • Intrusive legislative decisions impacting individual water/wastewater systems disrupt predictable rate structures for existing customers.

Watch below as Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer explains the case and its impact to residents at a meeting earlier this year.

Read more here about the Asheville and Charlotte lawsuits.