Friday, October 12, 2012

LTE: Bothwell, Water

Shrinking Asheville? It’s run by Dim and Dimmer
by Tim Peck
Asheville Daily Planet | October 2012

City council member Cecil Bothwell offers us a helpful window into the thinking of local government in his recent commentary ("The Incredible Shrinking City", Sep 2012) where he bemoans the fact that Asheville is legally prohibited from charging county residents more for water service than citizens of Asheville. His complaint centers on the consequence of this law which he says is "removing a huge incentive for voluntary annexation."

The only way I see that water rates could be an incentive to county customers is if those rates could be somehow manipulated to the disadvantage of those customers. In other words, the city could have an interest in rates artificially raised to the point where county customers have a disincentive to remain outside the loving arms of Asheville.

I say "artificially" because the desired rate hikes would presumably then be lowered immediately upon submitting to voluntary municipal annexation and the subsequent city taxes, ordinances and land-use regulations that annexation imposes on the newly abosrbed citizens. This, of course, counters any notion that higher rates simply reflect the higher cost of serving county customers that are farther away. Besides, the county is where the water comes from in the first place.

This arrangement would be about as voluntary as when the mobster warns the shopkeeper to pay protection money and when the shopkeeper asks, "Protection from who?" the mobster answers, "From us."

Yes, Asheville is a shrinking city. With the Sullivan Acts, new democratic barriers to forced annexation, a newly-independent airport authority, a pending regional water system merger, the repeal of some recent questionable annexations, and with businesses, students and residents moving out and half of city workers now living out of town, Asheville, and specifically its tax base, is shrinking and will continue to shrink. Couple that with the city thumbing its nose at Raleigh with an irrelevant water referendum and Asheville's future looks like it's being run by Dim and Dimmer.

The only question remaining is, if Asheville insists on dreaming beyond its means, what mechanism with she now resort to for skimming revenues from the unwilling?