Eureka residents warned about giving up charter
By Turner Walston
Published in News on February 18, 2005 2:09 PM
Eureka residents held a meeting at the fire department Thursday night to discuss a movement by some to dissolve the town's charter. State Rep. Louis Pate spoke with about 40 people who attended. He was joined by John Phelps, a lawyer with the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and state Sen. John Kerr.
Pate began the meeting by explaining the process required by the state legislature to dissolve a town's charter. He said he would have to see a petition signed by a majority of the town's residents. A petition has been circulating.
Pate said that although some towns in North Carolina have been dissolved, it rarely happens. The process requires a local bill be approved during the long session of the General Assembly.
"It's not like just closing a door, locking it, turning the lights out and leaving," Pate said.
Pate asked those in attendance to consider the impact of disbanding the town, especially the services they would lose.
"But," he added, "I'm here to find out the desire of the citizens."
Phelps described the legal processs of un-incorporating. He brought up a number of issues he said the residents may want to consider.
"Just like a business," Phelps said. "If you have assets and liabilities, something has to happen to those."
If Eureka, Phelps said, "all of a sudden no longer exists, something has to happen with regard to existing assets, existing liabilities, and existing services that have been provided to the town."
Phelps said that Eureka hs received grants for sewer improvements, and that presents a problem.
"What happens to the sewer and the state money?" he asked.
If a private company took over the system, Phelps said, the company would set the rates themselves. Either way, he said, the users would have to pay the costs.
Lillie Mozingo, one of the residents supporting the petition, asked if the Wayne Countyu would take over the sewer if the town disincorporated. Phelps said the county has no obligation to do so.
Phelps brought up some differences in county and town law. On the minds of many residents was the town's cemetery. The land was donated to the town of Eureka, Phelps said. If the town disincorporated, it could be transferred to a private company.
He also described the county and city zoning laws and the differences between the two sets of regulations.
"The city zoning law applies as long as the town exists," Phelps said, adding that county zoning laws are significantly different.
Another important issue for residents is the town's leash law. Phelps pointed out that if the town disbands, the county has no current authority to enact a similar restriction on pet owners.
Another example, Phelps said, is a noise ordinance. He said that the town could have a noise ordinance itself, as long as the town existed. But if there was a problem after the town disincorporated, the community would have to convince county commissioners to enact one countywide.
Issues such as streetlights and trash pick-up also were discussed. Phelps said such services would no longer be available if the town disincorporated. He said that residents would have to contract trash pick-up on an individual basis.
The town would also lose the Powell Bill aid money it receives for street maintenance, Phelps noted.
"The reason the town is here is to supply those services," Phelps said.
Several residents expressed concern over the shrinking tax base and the increasing expenses. One man asked, "How do we continue to be a town?"
Phelps said the members of the Town Council are volunteers, and that the problem is theirs to handle. He suggested the residents decide what the town's most pressing problem is and concentrate on solving it.
"Maybe you're trying to do too many things at once," he said.
Phelps said the town's sewer rates, considered too high by some, are primarily due to infiltration and inflow in the pipes. He suggested raising rates temporarily to find the leaks.
"The town has to make a capital investment," he said. "Get rid of the infiltration and inflow, and you don't send as much to the wastewater treatment plant."
"Water and sewer is essential," said Sen. Kerr. He reminded the residents that he, along with Dortch Langston, secured a $3 million grant to improve Eureka's sewage system in 1999.
"You were in a mess, you were out of compliance, and I kept you going," Kerr said.
He said he had not been made aware of the infiltration and inflow problem until recently.
"This is a great town. It's got a future. The highway's opening up here and I think you're going to experience some growth," Kerr said, referring to the U.S. 70 bypass construction in northern Wayne County.
Kerr said the sewer problem can be traced to the age of the system. Some pipes are more than 50 years old.
"You're losing so much water, that you're being charged for, because of the condition of your pipes."
"You all entered into these contracts in good faith," Kerr said. "If you walk from that, you'll really be in a hole," he added.
"I'm willing to help you again," Kerr said. " But everybody won't agree on anything. There might have to be a little tax. There's no free lunches out there."
Kerr compared the situation to an old cowboy movie.
"They were always fighting over women or water rights," he said. "We're still fighting over women, I guess, but water is the next best thing."
"We can work to try to help you get a grant to fix the infiltration. But if the word is that you are going to fold, then it's going to be difficult for us to get a grant."
Kerr said he believes that it is important that the town resolve the problem amongst its residents.
"Everybody has to give and take," he said.
"You need to know how much you're going to lose if you shut it down," Kerr said. "This town is too beautiful to let go."
"What I don't understand," one meeting attendee said to applause, "is how is throwing away town going to do anything to fix the sewer?" She added, "Waiting for the county to do it, isn't going to do anything to fix it."
The woman suggested asking Rep. Pate and Sen. Kerr for help. "Let's make them work for their spots in the legislature," she said.
Referring to himself and Mr. Kerr, Pate said, "We certainly do need to pay more attention to Eureka," he added, but "you have a town board that is right here."
"How many of you have been to a board meeting lately?" Pate asked. A few residents raised their hands.
"I think that is a channel of communication that you need to make," Pate said.
Pate said he would work with Kerr on getting a grant to fix the sewer lines.
"You have signed on for this sewer, so you might as well get the best rate you can," Pate said. "If the town goes away, you're under someone else's rule."
"It's a tough project to stay a town, and it would be tough to disincorporate," Pate said.
It's simpler than that for at least one resident. "I've been out in the cornfields and the woods. I don't want to go back," said Beatrice Williams. "I want my toilet."
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