Lake residents could face higher costs

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 19, 2013
Photo by: Allan Zacher photo

Lake Junaluska residents may be facing much higher costs for 2014 now that a proposed merger with Waynesville has been put on hold.

Those costs could include a higher annual service fee as well as significant hikes in water, sewer, garbage and security fees to address the needs identified in both a long-range plan and a recent engineering study.

“The consequences for us not getting this through are significant,” Ewing said. “The planned annexation would have resulted inlong-term benefits to Lake Junaluska, Waynesville and Haywood County, but there are signficant ramifications since it did not occur."

Both Lake Junaluska and Waynesville were proceeding with the understanding that the proposed merger could become effective Aug. 31, an expectation that was realistic considering past legislative history where local bills sailed through the governing body as long as they were supported by the legislators representing the district. That was the case with Sen. Jim Davis and Rep. Joe Sam Queen.

However, Rep. Michele Presnell, who doesn’t represent the district but is a member of the Republican majority in Raleigh, went to bat for annexation opponents, and the bill has been pulled for now.

Since the annexation bill has passed one chamber of the legislature, it can come up again next year.

Meanwhile, the Waynesville Board of Aldermen will consider an amendment to its 2013-14 budget to back out both the anticipated revenue and expenses associated with the Lake Junaluska annexation which was included in its budget adopted July 1.

Buddy Young, director of Lake Junaluska Public Works, said he needs to start the Lake Junaluska Assembly Public Works budget process anew.

The Lake Junaluska Assembly’s capital reserves for Assembly Public Works projects have dwindled, and there are infrastructure problems looming, such as the patch on a water line break that erupted in front of Stuart Auditorium last year.

“We’ll discuss it at the next Community Council meeting,” Young said of the meeting scheduled for Aug. 6 to determine how the assembly will address the immediate pressing infrastructure needs. “I would be surprised if they didn’t move forward with a recommendation for an increase.”

From there, any proposed utility rate changes would have to be approved by the Lake Junaluska Assembly governing board, which meets in October, and then by the state utilities commission.

“They treat us as a private developer,” Young said of the utilities commission. “I think we have enough evidence that we could increase the water and sewer base fees to approximately $48 a month.”

Currently, water and sewer base rates are $17 a month, and garbage fees, which will also need to increase, are $13.86 a month. When the county stopped accepting municipal and private hauler trash at its Jones Cove facility just down the road from Lake Junaluska, trash had to be transported directly to the White Oak landfill near Fines Creek, Young said.

The county offered municipalities a rebate to cover the extra costs, but as a private entity, the lake’s public works department had to  absorb them.

“We’re in deficit in the solid waste budget, so that will have to be adjusted. It will be the extra costs in the monthly bills that will hit us, not so much the assessment,” Young said.

Another issue is fire protection. Haywood County requires all property within the county to be either part of a municipality or within a fire district. Because of the proposed annexation, plans to move Lake Junaluska into a fire district were put on hold.

Jack Ewing, Lake Junaluska Assembly executive director, said that prior to the annexation talks, the 33 cents per $100 value of property value service fee was scheduled to be increased 6 cents to cover fire protection, a cost that will likely have to be implemented, if not this year then next year. The assessment could increase beyond that if it is deemed necessary, he added.

The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled the lake can legally collect a property assessment as long as it is uniformly applied to all property owners. That means if costs will go up for property owners within the area, they will also rise for Lake Junaluska Assembly, which is the largest property owner.

Ewing said the future course for Lake Junaluska Assembly will be re-examined in light of recent developments.

“The property owners of Lake Junaluskawill be responsible for what happens going forward. It will be critical for property owners to demonstrate their commitment to this process,” Ewing said.

He said he believes the surveys and task force work that concluded annexation was the preferred option for the vast majority will hold true as discussions proceed.

The only accurate reflection of opposition is a property owner survey in which 24 percent of the respondents indicated they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the option, he said. There was a 60 percent response rate, which is extremely high for surveys of this nature.

 

By the numbers

A task force examined future options for Lake Junaluska for the past year. Here are some of their findings.

Infrastructure needs at the lake — $6 million

Immediate needs — $1.8 million

For a home valued at $200,000 using 5,000 gallons of water per month, the costs would be:

Staying as is and doing minimal improvements — $1,821

Incorporating as a town — $1,632

Merging with Waynesville — $1,261.

Without being part of a government entity, Lake Junaluska Assembly has no ability to borrow funds so payments can be spread out over time. Additionally, the Assembly would not be eligible for federal or state grants, loans or purchasing contracts if no governance change was made, and instead would have to accomplish improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis.

 

 

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