The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled today that a 2013 law stripping the City of Asheville of its municipal water system is an unconstitutional local act, meaning the city will retain control of the system. The 5-2 decision reverses a Court of Appeal ruling that would have allowed the law to go forward and transfer the system to a regional water authority.
This decision is a momentous win for all North Carolina cities and towns, preserving a city-owned asset built largely with the contributions of municipal taxpayers and ratepayers. The potential negative consequences for all cities and towns, had the courts ruled against Asheville, are why the League filed amicus briefs in support of the city’s position that the law amounted to an unconstitutional illegal taking and that it was a constitutionally prohibited local act affecting health and sanitation.
The state’s high court focused on the issue of prohibited local acts, concluding that the law was both a local act, as Asheville was the only municipal government affected based on the law’s language, and that the water system does relate to health and sanitation. Regarding the issue of the law representing an illegal taking from the city, the court wrote, “In view of our conclusion that the legislation is an unconstitutional local law relating to health and sanitation, we need not address the City’s challenge to the Court of Appeals’ holding that the legislation did not result in a compensable taking and express no opinion concerning its correctness.”
I want to thank the City of Asheville, the private-sector attorneys who worked on the case, and the League’s General Counsel Kim Hibbard and Associate General Counsel Gregg Schwitzgebel for their efforts in this case.
Of course, this ruling occurred as the General Assembly met in a fifth special session to consider the repeal of the controversial HB 2 after the Charlotte City Council decided to repeal its anti-discrimination ordinance. The repeal of the Charlotte ordinance was based on the condition that the General Assembly repeal HB 2 by Dec 31, and a Senate bill had been introduced late Wednesday doing so. The Senate bill included language that cities and towns not pass any similar ordinances over the next six months. The League’s Public and Government Affairs staff continued to monitor the situation, but no bill had passed as of this writing.
Also of interest, please enjoy the latest Revenue Report produced by League Director of Research and Analysis Chris Nida examining state-collected local government revenues through the first quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year. The League’s annual Salary Survey also was released this week and can be found here by either logging in with your League website account or registering for an account with the League website.
Finally, I want to wish the best to you and your families this holiday season, and sincerely hope that it is a happy and safe one for all. This has been a great year for the League and North Carolina cities and towns, and I am truly excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for us in the New Year.
- Paul Meyer, NCLM Executive Director