12/01/13 — County wants power to alter water boundaries

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County wants power to alter water boundaries

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

Wayne County commissioners' campaign to win legislative approval allowing them to alter sanitary district lines amounts to forced annexation, Wayne Water Districts Manager Steve Hamilton said.

"If a group of people touch our district, and they want to be annexed, all they have to do is sign a petition and submit it to us," he said. "We will approve it and send it to the Health Board and annex it. It isn't a difficult process.

"We are not going to fight it. It is really not going to have any impact on us because we are going to serve you with water whether you live in the district or not. We don't force anybody to take water. If they want to vote or serve (on the district board), just ask to join the district."

There have been several annexations since the initial district lines were drawn in the 1980s, Hamilton said. Also, Wayne Water Districts water customers pay the same rates and fees whether they live inside or outside the district lines, he said.

"The fact they hadn't said anything to us and the way it was presented to (state Rep. John) Bell, it really upset some folks," Hamilton said. "It really wasn't about the content. It is not about that we are opposed to the annexation. It was how it was being done and how it is being proposed how it will be handled."

The Legislature has said there will be no more forced annexation of properties in the state, Hamilton said.

"But what are we doing?" he said. "What is this? Isn't this a forced annexation? We have never taxed. We don't have plans to tax, but we have the power to tax.

"I think that having that power means that the people should have some say in it (being annexed). What about the people who live outside our service area, but don't take water from us? You know, you are annexing them, too."

Hamilton, who questions how commissioners have gone about seeking the legislative approval, said he is unsure what sparked their interest in district lines to start with.

"I don't want to throw mud, but that whole thing was kind of done behind our back," Hamilton said. "We had no knowledge of it. We found out at the last minute that it was even going to be on the agenda and discussed. (Commissioner) Wayne Aycock, who used to be one of my board members, didn't find out about it until that morning. I am talking about back in February."

Commissioners first broached the issue in February when they approved a motion asking the General Assembly to allow the majority of the board, by resolution, to alter sanitary district lines.

No bill was introduced.

Commission Chairman Steve Keen revived the issue at the board's Oct. 15 meeting.

Hamilton said he did not find out that the issue would be discussed on Oct. 15 until the night before the meeting. Hamilton attended the meeting, but Keen would not allow him to speak during the discussion.

However, Hamilton did speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

At that meeting, the board again approved a motion asking legislators to introduce a local bill granting the board the authority to change sanitary district lines.

Commissioners also called for a work session with the county's sanitary district representatives to find a resolution to the matter.

"They haven't discussed it with us yet," Hamilton said.

Commissioners argue it is a matter of fairness.

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

Keen also said that water district rates and fees set too high could hurt economic development.

"To be frank, this is probably the first time this issue of 'I can't vote' has come up," Hamilton said. "That is what I said at the commission meeting that day. If this was such a big issue, why hasn't anybody come to our board meeting or written a letter saying, 'Hey, we want to vote. We want to hold office. How can we get annexed?' Nobody has asked. Look at how many people voted in the Southwestern Wayne (board election). It looked like less than 80 people voted.

"My board has had no problem annexing properties, but we don't feel that the resolution that was drawn up by county commissioners is the way to do it. First of all, the county has no idea where our water lines are. Fork actually has a water line that goes all the way from Fork to the southeastern part of the county. Because they were formed before we were, they actually have customers strung out along there. How do you deal with that?"

To clear up everything and get the public in one district would be difficult, he said.