Lake Junaluska annexation on hold for now

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 30, 2014

Despite a last-ditch effort to get support from the General Assembly, the Lake Junaluska-Waynessville merger is dead until at least 2015.

The effort has been studied for nearly three years now, and is one leaders of both communities, as well as the vast majority of Lake Junaluska residents, support.

State Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, shepherded the bill through the state Senate, but opposition in the House prevented its passage.

Leaders of the Senate and House have suggested that action on the annexation issue be delayed until the 2015 session of the General Assembly, which begins in January, Davis told local leaders.

"That's a very understandable and reasonable suggestion given the complex, statewide issues the legislature has been dealing with during this short session, and all parties concur," Davis said.

If he’s elected in November, Davis said he would again introduce the measure, this time with a referendum component.

“I don’t know if this will satisfy the opponents,” he said, naming Rep. Michele Presnell,who represents a portion of Haywood County but no voters in Lake Junaluska,  Rep. Mitchell Setzer of Cawtawba County, and Rep. Julia Howard, who represents Davie and Forsyth counties. “I never got any good answers as to why they opposed it.”

Davis said there was talk of adding a referendum to the bill during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, but noted the bill never got to the point of a vote.

There appeared to be all sorts of behind-the-scenes politics being played with the bill that had nothing to do with its substance, he said.

“Michele Presnell muddied the water to begin with even when it was not in her district,” Davis said. “That’s a no-no in the Legislature. If it is not your district, you stay out of it.”

In an email response, Presnell said while Lake Junaluska part of the 118 House district, it is in Haywood County, which she represents.

“In my view, this was forced annexation by the town of Waynesville,” she wrote. “Many Haywood County residents agree with me. They did not want their tax dollars paying for upgrades to Lake  Junaluska sewer and water facilities. I have spoken with several mayors and former mayors who said you never replace all water and sewer pipes at the same time. They are replaced as needed.”

Forced annexation is no longer possible under state law revised in 2011 as municipal boundary extensions initiated local must receive voter approval.

"In their minds, if one person is annexed against their will, then it is a forced annexation," Davis said, "but if it is on the ballot and the majority favors it, it shouldn't be considered forced. That’s the way we govern."

Work will continue

The delay, said Buddy Young, Lake Junaluska’s public works director, won’t stop the piecemeal approach to address much-needed repairs at the lake, especially to the leaking water system.

The assembly purchases both water and sewer services from Waynesville, and when water seeps directly into the sewer system, it is paid for twice without ever being used.

“Even though we have been working toward annexation, we’ve also been on a separate track of continuing business as if it was not an option,” Young said.

That lead to hefty rate increases on the water bills that began last year, an annual assessment rate hike from $33 per $100 of value to $35.25 and other fee increases.

Even though many of the homes at the lake are closed down for the winter, Young said all homeowners must pay the base rate to be served by the system. The new base rate for water, which was formerly $16 a month, has almost doubled.

Jack Ewing, executive director at Lake Junaluska Assembly, said a referendum is not a new thought and that he’s very comfortable with the idea since it has been demonstrated about two-thirds of the residents of Lake Junaluska, as well as lake property owners, support annexation.

“The community council expressed support for this direction and without a vote to change that, it is a vote we have been charged with pursuing,” Ewing said.

Ewing said Lake Junaluska followed a very careful and thorough process of examining the options for meeting long-term municipal needs and came to the conclusion that annexation by Waynesville is the best option.

As a private community, Lake Junaluska is not eligible for low-interest government loans or any grants government routinely provides for municipalities up upgrade infrastructure.

Second annexation option

The process selected to unite Lake Junaluska and Waynesville was one where the General Assembly was asked to consider a local bill allowing it. Typically, local bills are routinely passed if those representing a district agree on it, which was the case with Rep. Joe Sam Queen, who represents Lake Junaluska, and Davis. But the opposition of several key legislators stalled the measure.

There is another option set forth in the law to annex an area that doesn't adjoin the town, but Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, who is also an attorney, said that is not possible in this case.

A map of the Lake Junaluska area that has long been studied during the annexation discussion best shows why. In a town-initiated proceeding, one-eighth of the property boundary for the area proposed to be annexed must be contiguous to town property.

That isn't the case in this instance. Theoretically, more landowners could be brought into the town if they were willing and petitioned to be added, and that would increase the percentage of contiguous boundary. For instance, if the properties along Fairway Hills Drive were added to the town, it is possible the shared boundary between the town and the proposed Lake Junaluska area to be annexed would satisfy the boundary requirements. But there has never been any discussion or study concerning this issue, Brown said.

"This is the area they requested to be annexed, and that is what we studied," Brown said, pointing to a shaded area on a map that Lake Junaluska asked to have considered being merged with Waynesville.

A second requirement is that the annexation vote must be held in conjunction with a regularly scheduled municipal vote, and that intentions for such a vote must be announced 16 months in advance. Since Waynesville's town board members are all elected at once, that means elections are held only every four years, with the next one scheduled in 2015.

Even if the town wanted to explore this option, there isn't enough time to do in before 2015, so if that deadline were missed, it would push a decision out even farther.

"The statute was basically written to make it impossible for communities to annex property," Brown said.

While the town has worked with Lake Junaluska officials on the annexation issue, the driving force behind the move has come from the lake. Brown has traveled to the state capitol several times in the past two years to speak with legislators on the specifics of the Lake Junaluska annexation bill.

"I've spent a lot of time in Raleigh, but when you become a political football, it is really tough," he said. "Actually it is more like a tether ball in this case."

Comments (6)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 30, 2014 06:45

This is a good, comprehensive article.  One angle that might be left out is the concern that Waynesville residents have about the annexation.  Why should we in Waynesville support the idea of taking on an infrastructure project that is costly enough that Junaluska residents don't want to fix it?  We are already getting smacked with a 7.5% property tax increase!

 

"an annual assessment rate hike from $33 per $100 of value to $35.25" -- Would this 6.8% increase be comparable to the 7.5% property tax increase that Waynesville had this year?  If so, aren't the Junuluska owners actually appreciating a 0.7% savings by not becoming part of Waynesville?

 

"The new base rate for water, which was formerly $16 a month, has almost doubled." -- My "base rate" in Waynesville is like $35/month.  So would Junuluska folks have to pay the same $35/month after annexation?  And my Waynesville water rate is increasing at 5% as well.

 

Playing with people's property rights is not something that ought to be done quickly.  It's more important to do it correctly.  Let's lay it all out and save the politics for after the debate on the issue.  From what I can understand, the issue has never been debated without politics tainting the discussion.  (Surveys and petitions being done by those who have an agenda, slanting news articles, questioning the motivations of legislators that construct the debate, etc.) 

 

Although there are two (unqualified) statements that say Junuluska residents are in favor of annexation, there is no statement to say if a majority of Waynesville residents are in favor of annexation.  I would like to see why a Waynesville resident would be in favor of tax increases to pay for the Junuluska infrastructure.

 

Sounds like there will be a good debate on this soon.  I'll need some popcorn for that show!  Maybe someone will host a debate at the Strand @ 38 Main where I can buy some organic popcorn and a SodaJerk beverage.  :-)



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Jul 30, 2014 09:03

          The people of Waynesville need not pay for the excesses/failures of Junaluska.

          Junaluska has a large presence that has not been paying their fair share in the guise of religion. Nor is the rate that is applied anywhere near what it should be. It should be at least the same as Waynesville or more since they are buying from Waynesville.

           Whether the homes are occupied full or part time should not matter whatsoever.

 

            C.Z.



Posted by: Dudley Hale | Jul 30, 2014 09:41

I agree with the previous comments.  My concern is the ETJ.  I have not heard any mention of this. The Lake residents will benefit from the annexation, but what is the benefit for 10,000 plus other residents.



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Jul 30, 2014 17:45

For those who have been looking at this annexation issue over the past couple of years without the burden of trying to adhere consistently to an ideological belief that government in general is bad, and that any form of taxation is even worse, it looks like this annexation would be pretty much a win/win proposition for both Waynesville and Lake Junaluska - at least in the long term. The problem is that the voices of protest are very strident and very determined to have their way, no matter what. I believe sincerely, furthermore, that most of those voices (perhaps some based in Waynesville and some based - at least for part of the year - at Lake Junaluska) are driven by ideological considerations rather than by common sense considerations of what the majority of the stakeholders want and what actions will ultimately result in the greater good for the vast majority of stakeholders.

I don't live in Waynesville any longer, although I grew up there, worked for 17 years as the principal at Central Elementary, have lots of friends who live and work there, and quite naturally still retain a lot of interest in the long-term well being of Waynesville. I don't live at Lake Junaluska, either, although I was a summertime employee for about five years in my high school and college years, and I enjoy being able to walk/jog around the Lake and run into (not literally) folks I know from every corner of Haywood County who love the Lake and what it represents for this area as much as I do. I live in Canton now, and I love it here, but as someone who cares about all of Haywood County, I have been following the "LJ annexation story" quite closely for some time while wearing no particular ideologically tinted glasses, and my rather simple conclusion is as follows:

If ideological considerations (i.e., a desire to remain ideologically "pure" and consistent regarding taxes and the role of government in our lives, no matter what the facts are) can be divorced from the annexation discussions, then there really are no logical long-term arguments against proceeding with the annexation process.

Of course, we are told now that this will be a "dead" issue for at least another year or so, and that's too bad, in my opinion, because this is something that needs to happen for the long-term well being of Lake Junaluska, Waynesville, and Haywood County.

Questions have been raised on this forum about the benefits Waynesville would derive from annexing Lake Junaluska. Some of the things I've learned in my reading about this issue speak to those questions, I think.

Early in 2013, the Town of Waynesville held two public meetings to discuss the annexation issue and receive input from residents of Waynesville, but those meetings were evidently sparsely attended - opportunities to learn quite obviously missed by most residents. A study group, funded jointly by Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, and grant money, presented its findings in February, 2013. The overall tone of the study was quite positive regarding the proposed merger, although its authors cautioned that the infrastructure issues (i.e., water and sewer) in LJ would keep the merger from being an immediate, clear cut financial boon to Waynesville. The benefits to Waynesville outlined in the study and accompanying discussions include the following:

1. $190 million added to Waynesville's tax base.

2. $775,000 in annual property tax receipts from LJ residents at current rates & property values.

3. The addition of a highly educated, primarily professional, and civic-minded population.

4. A population boost to Waynesville from roughly 10,000 to 11,000, which will give Waynesville a bigger cut of state sales tax revenues and make the town eligible for more funding from other sources of state, federal, and grant monies.

The major downside of this merger for Waynesville, of course, would be the necessity of taking on the water/sewer system problems associated with the LJ system that has some pipes that are 100 years old. The costs of those infrastructure demands could be covered by the annual $775,000 in additional tax receipts from LJ residents. But the study group said that "best practice" suggests that water/sewer systems should be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, and not propped up by property taxes. They said an increase in water/sewer rates would be the more financially sound practice to cover the costs of the expanded system. So, it appears that as a result of annexing Lake Junaluska - however far down the road that might be now - the only downside for Waynesville residents would be an increase in their water/sewer bills. The study group also cited the fact, however, that Waynesville's current water/sewer rates are 30 to 40 percent lower than most areas in the region, so even a rate increase sufficient to meet all the water/sewer repair and upgrade costs for a Waynesville that included LJ would still keep Waynesville residents paying less for water/sewer services than most in the region.

The benefits of this annexation for Lake Junaluska residents are pretty obvious it seems, and no doubt, those potential benefits have driven the tremendous level of support for annexation coming from the vast majority of LJ homeowners. The opposition voiced from some who are connected to the LJ community seems to be ideologically based, as far as I can tell, because any "common sense" cost/benefit analysis shows that Lake Junaluska residents - at least the full time residents - would realize both short-term and long-term benefits from annexation with Waynesville.

Nothing in life is ever as simple as we would like it to be, and change generally creates discomfort for most of us. So, I don't guess it's surprising that some people are having difficulty accepting the idea of the changes this merger would bring about. But from what I can tell, the changes will be in the best interests of virtually stakeholder in the long run.

Regardless of ideological persuasion, no one likes having to pay higher taxes or fees, either. But don't we all like to think we will get a stream of wonderful tasting mountain water when we turn the tap? And don't we tend to forget about any waste we flush away about as soon as we push the commode handle? The fact is that the out-of-sight infrastructure allowing us to keep certain things out of our minds costs money to operate, and it costs money to repair and/or replace. I know that ideology is a powerful force in people's lives, but sometimes we just have to pay for the services we receive - whether they are out of sight or not.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 31, 2014 09:19

Mr. Sanderson, I enjoyed your writing as much as I did the original article.

 

"government in general is bad, and that any form of taxation is even worse" -- As a Republican, I wouldn't categorize government as "bad" -- but I do wish it to interfere with my freedom as little as possible.  Our Constitution is supposed to protect us from tyranny and tax increases is an indicator that government is growing in some way.  When government grows, it becomes more prevalent in my life -- something I can do without.  That's my philosophical statement -- not that it should be applied to this specific topic.

 

It appears that the justification for growing Waynesville's population by 10% is for some long term benefit.  Has anyone done any objective and factual study to determine how long term the ROI will be?  I've heard figures to fix LJ's infrastructure range from $1M to $10M.  Using the latter figure I imagine "long term" might be more than what most people might want.  It would be irresponsible to sign any kind of a blank check; and not disclosing the facts or distorting the facts would be improper.  To accept your argument that we should support this for "long term benefit", we need to define that vague term.

 

Also, what is the proposed increase to water/sewer rates post-annexation?  If I were to ask you to agree to increase your mortgage, would you agree to that without knowing what that increase would be and for how long?  If I told you that other people around you pay higher mortgage rates, would you accept that justification for increasing your payments?  My water/sewer rates are already going up 5% this year -- I suppose there will be yet another increase post-annexation.  You can see my logic has very little to do with being a Republican and more to do with common sense.

 

Smart citizens aware of their civic duty to keep government in check will understand that inaction of citizens should always default to a preservation of rights and freedom.  Reduction of personal property rights can not and should not occur because We The People are disinterested or not attending public information meetings.  If the government wants to "take" property to be within its control, the duty is on the government to persuade We The People in the right way.  That "right way" is clearly defined and I look forward to seeing that process play out.  I hope everyone supports that process -- even when their own opinions on the matter are not in favor.

 

Finally, as this issue has slowed down a bit, I think that can only be good for everyone so that good decisions can be made using good data.  It's too easy to hurry to conclusion.  If the issue were so clearly win-win, there wouldn't be as much objection to it.  If you don't understand the objection, then you need to listen more.  Just as I don't understand the strong desire to annex, I am now listening for that argument.  You provided that logic for me -- now I just need that quantified to agree that it makes sense as a Waynesville resident paying already-increased water/sewer rates and property taxes.

 

Good day to you, sir.



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 01, 2014 09:40

             We the people govern Ourselves! Governance in OUR secular republic is not the problem! Undue influence is.

              I have not yet began to formally protest annexation. But I will.

              The idea that somehow Waynesville will gain in tax value is too much like buishishito, etc's promise that the WARS would pay for themselves. Nonsense! If the primarily private community of Junaluska were so well off they'd have alreddy fixed their water woes. They have not! This irresponsible failure should not be foisted on Waynesville taxpayers in the guise of future returns.

                Taxes are the responsibility for all to pay in proportion to what they gained. It is the cost of doing OUR business in OUR representative republic.

                 But of course there are those that don't want to pay their fair share and will use any excuse to transfer their debt/responsibility to the rest of US.

               C.Z.



If you wish to comment, please login.