10/20/13 — County seeks to increase powers

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County seeks to increase powers

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 20, 2013 1:50 AM

For the second time this year, state lawmakers will be asked to introduce local legislation that would allow a majority of Wayne County commissioners to change sanitary district lines in the county.

The first bill, requested by commissioners in February, went nowhere.

Tuesday morning, commissioners spent nearly 40 minutes building their case for the authority to change the lines.

It is, they argued, a matter of fairness.

Sanitary districts have expanded their services outside of their original boundaries, commissioners said.

However, customers who live in those outlying areas cannot vote for the people who serve on the district boards, nor do they have any say in the rates and fees the boards set, commissioners said.

Several commissioners said that infringes on those citizens' right to vote in the sanitary district board elections.

Kevin Hayes of Mount Olive, an unsuccessful candidate for House District 4, originally suggested the bill. He voiced that support again Tuesday.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery brought the issue up in February. On Tuesday, Chairman Steve Keen championed the change.

Keen made his comments following an update by Board of Elections Director Rosemary Blizzard on November's municipal and sanitary district board elections.

He also made a motion for County Attorney Borden Parker to draft a letter to the county's local legislative delegation asking that its members revisit introducing the bill. It was approved 7-0.

The resolution was not on the board's agenda, but maps of the districts, one with an overlay of the commissioners' districts, and another with an overlay of state House districts, were on display prior to the meeting.

Mrs. Blizzard said it appears there are people living outside the district who pay for services. However, only people who live inside the sanitary districts can vote in the district elections, Mrs. Blizzard said.

There have been questions about how many people that is, she said.

"If you overlay the county commissioners districts, in District 1 you have approximately 4,012 voters who do not fall into a sanitary district, but may receive services from that district" she said.

Services have no bearing on participation in the election, it is "purely" where the person lives, she said.

"District 2 has 1,902, District 3, 490, District 580, District 5, 2,507 and District 6, zero," she said. "The numbers that I am giving you are registered voters. They may have a well and don't receive services. I don't know the answer to that question as to how that breaks out."

Mrs. Blizzard did not explain why the second map was an overly of the county's state House districts.

Keen would not allow Steve Hamilton, district manager for Wayne Water District, to speak during the board discussions. The district represents five of the county's seven sanitary districts.

Hamilton did speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.

"I have been with the district a little over three years," he said. "During that time, there hasn't been any person to contact any of my boards requesting that they be annexed into the district.

"From what I understand, in the past there were several areas that requested annexation. They requested it by presenting a petition with over 51 percent of the homeowners' signatures, the sanitary boards approved it. It was passed on to the state Board of Health that approved the annexation."

The district boards do not have the power to annex, but they do have the authority to tax, Hamilton said.

"So went you start talking about pulling people into the districts without their ability to vote on it, you are actually, in my opinion, you are putting the potential for a tax on those citizens without them having a vote or a say in that matter," he said.

Hamilton said he thinks that is why the General Assembly provided options for annexation into a sanitary district.

"You need 15 percent to put it to a vote, 51 percent to put it in the form of a petition and 100 percent to basically make it an automatic," he said. "Again, none of my boards has ever opposed an annexation. None of my boards has ever indicated any desire to oppose an annexation of any properties into the district.

"But again, I think the legislators, when they set up this law, they did it in such a fashion that it gave the citizens an opportunity to state whether they wanted to be in the district and whether they don't. Again, by following the statute, not by forced annexation."

Hamilton said he was speaking for himself and not the district boards.

Normally, commissioners do not respond to people who speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.

But, Keen asked Hamilton if each sanitary district board set its own rates. They do, Hamilton said.

Keen also asked if each board set tap-on and other fees. They do, Hamilton said.

"Do those who get this service that are outside of the voting district, do they have a say-so on what the fee is or what the rate is?" Keen said.

"No, not specifically, no they don't" Hamilton said.