Waynesville budget unsettled with annexation legislation in limbo
Legislative discord in Raleigh has spilled into local politics.
The Waynesville/Lake Junaluska annexation scheduled to take effect in August is hung up in the state House, a development that has sent Waynesville leaders scrambling to comply with the July 1 deadline for towns and counties to adopt their budgets.
Waynesville leaders prepared the 2013-14 budget on the premise a local bill, one with widespread approval from local residents and both state legislators for the district, would pass.
The measure easily cleared the state Senate and was expected to sail through the House in early June. That didn't happen. On June 13, Sen. Jim Davis attributed the holdup to "politics."
"The delay appears to be part of a bargaining chip for a House bill sponsor that wants his bill considered in the Senate. I think people call it 'politics.' Be assured that I remain determined to have this bill heard in the full house and then become law."
The Waynesville Board of Aldermen has de;ayed final budget approval in the hopes the annexation issue would be settled by the July 1 deadline for towns and counties to adopt a budget for the coming fiscal year.
The legislative snafu means the board will hold a special-called meeting at 5:30 Monday to adopt a budget. Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal is suggesting the board adopt the budget as proposed with the understanding an amendment could be considered later in the event the annexation bill doesn't pass this session.
The amendment would remove any anticipated income that was budgeted from new property being included within town boundaries in anticipation of the Lake Junaluska annexation, as well as any expenses for infrastructure, personnel or capital costs budgeted to serve the newest area of town.
Part of the legislative delay involves wrangling over tax cuts and budget issues. Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, directed “anything that begins with an H,” to be removed from the Senate calendar, a reference to House bills, according to a June 27 news article in the Raleigh News and Observer.
The General Assembly won't reconvene until July 8 as Republican leaders, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, work with Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, to resolve the impasse.
Onieal spent last week in Raleigh discussing the annexation issue.
"The good news is that the Junaluska bill is still perking along through committee," she said in an email to board members. "The bad news, if there is any, is that legislative wheels sometimes turn slowly. Our bill remains in the House Finance committee with no formal action having been taken, and there are potentially other House committees through which the bill must track before it gets back to the House floor."
Because of differences between the House, Senate and Governor regarding budget issues, it is unknown when the annexation issue will be acted upon. If no action is taken before adjournment, it could still be considered in next year's short session since it has already passed one chamber.
"In the meantime, there is currently movement within the House Finance Committee toward requiring the Junaluska annexation bill to undergo a referendum before annexation is approved," Onieal wrote. "If passed, this measure would delay the effective date of any potential annexation, but is certainly not an objectionable direction for the bill to take. A referendum would serve to provide clear validation to both proponents and opponents of annexation, and to the legislature itself, that the will of the people has been heard."
If an election is held on the issue, only those registered to vote in Haywood County would be eligible. Many property owners at the lake are part-time residents who aren't registered to vote here.
The issue of annexation into Waynesville is one that's been studied extensively at Lake Junaluska for more than a year. There have been numerous meetings, a property owner survey showing a wide margin of approval and near-unanimous approval from the Lake Junaluska governing board for annexation. Public hearings in Waynesville on the issue drew little public comment and no negative comments.
Both Davis and Rep. Joe Sam Queen, the two legislators who represent the Lake Junaluska and Waynesville district, support the voluntary annexation request, but Rep. Michele Presnell, who represents other parts of Haywood, is opposed to the measure.
She opposes the annexation bill.
"I feel like it is forced annexation to a lot of people," she said in an interview several weeks ago. "I feel there should have been a vote."
During the earlier meetings on the issue, Lake Junaluska leaders opted for a property owner survey to gauge attitudes on the issue, a method that allowed all property owners to weigh in on the matter, not just those registered to vote in Haywood.
If the annexation is delayed, said Buddy Young, public works director for Lake Junaluska, "we have plans in place to continue to provide public works services as they have been in the past."