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Wednesday, 03 August 2016 14:07

Waynesville property owner sees bumps in the road to MSD exit

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The same 2015 law that robs local governments of control over how and for how long they can contract with the organizations that manage their Municipal Service Districts also dictates that local governments now formally address requests from property owners who wish to be removed from an MSD.

Sharon Earley, who with her husband James owns the property at 180 Legion Drive in Waynesville, sought removal almost two years ago; without that statute in place, their plans hit a red light. 

But since news of the change to MSDs, Sharon Earley’s been to every town board meeting, including the one on July 26, when a motion to call for a required public hearing Aug. 9 was unanimously passed. 

That public hearing will allow for supporters and detractors of Earley’s cause to be heard; once that’s complete, her request will come up for a vote at a future town board meeting. In the event it passes, it will have to be passed again before she would be allowed to leave effective the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2017.

MSD property owners pay an extra 20 cents per $100 valuation on top of Waynesville’s 48.57-cent rate; removal will save the Earleys an estimated $692.20 in taxes each year. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be obstacles in the way,” said Earley. 

Indeed, during discussion on the matter in the meeting, Alderman LeRoy Roberson said that the downtown benefits the entire community.

“I feel differently about that. I think that the Downtown Waynesville Association benefits Main Street, downtown,” Earley said. “It doesn’t benefit a street that’s stuck way up there.”

Earley’s building, located on the south end of the MSD and fronting Legion Drive, is far below Main Street’s grade, far from the touristy bustle of downtown, and far from the type of business that typically resides there. It’s a plumbing supply store. 

The statute tells property owners seeking removal from an MSD to state explicitly why they are not in need of the “services, facilities or functions” provided by the MSD, and Earley’s case is fairly simple.

“I have no parades, I have no Folkmoot, I have no craft fairs,” she said. “I’m sure that when the executive board of the DWA is sitting down trying to promote downtown and Waynesville, they don’t say, ‘Hey! Let’s see what we can do over on Legion Drive.’” 

Even if they did, it’s unlikely Ferguson Plumbing Supply would see more customers. 

Still, the president of the DWA executive board, John Keith, says the town should again deny the Earleys’ request, just like it did months ago. 

A statement issued by Keith on behalf of the DWA said that the Earleys knew of the extra tax commitment when they bought the property, and that they could have opted to raise the elevation of the parcel to better access frontage on Main Street, but did not. 

More importantly, the statement went on to say that “the success of the district is reliant upon the cumulative tax fund balance to market and advertise the district to the benefit of all. We feel this would possibly open the door for other district businesses that may feel that their current state of affairs warrants not paying the taxes and therefore would request release. We continue to believe our success is in all of us working as one unit and the benefits we have with the purchasing power of the group, staff leadership and the volunteer help that supports the DWA.”

Alderman Jon Feichter — a vocal critic of the recent state-level machinations regarding MSDs — appears determined to remain impartial on the Earleys’ request despite serving on the board of the DWA.

Feichter said he thought it would be a disservice to form an opinion on the matter before hearing from the Earleys and the public, and that he is open to the possibility of some property owners leaving the MSD.

“Obviously, we have to take each request on a case-by-case basis, but generally, unless there were some significant mitigating factor, I believe the boundaries that were set at the founding of the DWA are fair,” he said.

On the issue of whether or not he should even have a say in the matter — by virtue of his affiliation with the DWA, an organization his late father, Rex, helped found and mother, Libba, currently serves on — Feichter said he believes he’s required to vote, unless other board members raise opposition or new information comes to light.

“I spoke with Frayda Bluestein, the David M. Lawrence Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the UNC School of Government. In a nutshell, aside from a fairly limited set of reasons, I am statutorily obligated to vote. The major exception would be in cases where I receive a direct personal financial benefit,” he said. “Even though I may advocate in support of the DWA, I don't do so for personal financial gain. While I would obviously seek to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, that doesn't free me from my obligation to vote.”

Feichter’s I.T. business is located on Main Street in a renovated automobile showroom purchased by his father sometime in the 1980s, but is also of the type that doesn’t derive much business from the parades, fairs, dances and concerts the DWA encourages. 

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