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Wednesday, 04 June 2014 00:00

Rep. Presnell sponsors de-annexation bill

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It’s only eight lines long, but a de-annexation bill Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, has filed with the General Assembly’s Government Committee is drawing ire from some and cheers from others. The bill would remove a 3.4-acre property owned by Joe Maniscalco, 77, from the town limits of Maggie Valley. 

“That’s been voted on,” Maniscalco said. “That’s been legally voted on that my property should be de-annexed because it’s unservable.”

In 2012, the Maggie Valley Board of Alderman had voted to send a letter to Raleigh recommending that the legislature de-annex Maniscalco’s property, which became part of the town in 2009 during an annexation that included 130 homes on 166 acres. But the bill was never introduced, and four members of the current five-member board feel differently. 

“It has come to our attention that Representative Presnell intends to file legislation to de-annex property owned by Joseph and Dolores Maniscalco from the Town of Maggie Valley,” reads a letter signed by all members of the board save Phillip Wight and sent to Presnell, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. “Please be advised that an overwhelming majority of the current Town Board does NOT support this legislation.”

His opposition to the bill, said Mayor Ron DeSimone, is two-fold: first, the annexation was done according to the proper procedure, so any legal claim against it should be taken up in a court of law rather than in the legislature; and second, the bill does not consider the will of local government. 

“First of all, I think it’s pretty incredible that Ms. Presnell has filed that bill without any conversation or interaction with our board or with our town,” said DeSimone, correcting himself that Presnell had contacted Wight but had not spoken with any of the four board members who signed the letter. 

“It’s a controversial bill to begin with,” he continued. “The town last voted on this with the last board, and that was a 3 to 2 vote, which makes it pretty controversial. It’s pretty interesting that Ms. Presnell thinks the occupancy bill was a controversial issue when 24 of the 25 elected officials in the county are for it.”

The occupancy bill DeSimone referred to would raise room tax in Haywood County from 4 percent to 6 percent, with the money earmarked for tourism development projects. The increase would require legislative approval, which in turn requires support from the local delegation. Of the 25 elected town board and county commission members in Haywood County, all but Wight do support the measure. 

Wight, however, said that the letter the other board members sent the representatives isn’t legitimate at all — board members signed it on their own time, with no official action taken in a meeting. 

“I wouldn’t change my vote with the same evidence presented to me today,” Wight said. 

 

The backstory

Maniscalco lives on a gated mountaintop property that was annexed in 2009, one of 130 homes occupying a total 166 acres. In 2012, he finally made some headway with his assertion that his property should remain outside the town when the board decided in a 3-2 vote to send a letter to Raleigh supporting the de-annexation. However, no such bill was introduced, so the property remained in Maggie Valley. 

In 2013, another installment to the saga began when Maniscalco was indicted on a slate of eight charges for presenting falsified papers to support his case. 

“He has fraudulently manufactured false letters, misrepresented his case,” said Queen. “So the gentleman, the property owner is not exactly aboveboard on this at all.”

Maniscalco was indicted on five misdemeanor charges and three felony charges for falsifying and eventually took a plea deal to plead guilty to four of the misdemeanor charges. Though he did take a plea deal, Maniscalco contends he did so because mounting a defense would cost more money in attorney’s fees than it would be worth.  

“Once you get arrested, it costs you a fortune to undo that arrest,” Maniscalco said, later continuing, “I don’t have a chance in the world to prove my innocence, so I take the plea.”

He was required to pay a $100 fine, complete 24 hours of community service and refrain from contacting the Register of Deeds or Maggie Valley employees unless he needed to complete some official business. 

Presnell, however, would not comment on the charges and their relationship to her sponsoring the bill.

“I would just say what I have been saying,” she said. “The town has not kept up their end of the bargain.”

 

The case

After visiting Maniscalco’s home a few months ago, she concluded that the decision boiled down to right versus wrong. 

“The person is not getting the services that a town is supposed to provide when you annex them,” she said. “His road is 8 feet wide. There is no trash pickup. There is no snow removal. The man was up there for three weeks and couldn’t get his snow removed.”

Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone, however, said that’s just because Maniscalco’s sleeping in a bed he made himself. 

“He isn’t getting services because he stopped those services,” DeSimone said. 

Maniscalco claimed that it wasn’t safe for trash trucks and snow plows to service his property because they then had to back all the way down again.

However, DeSimone said, “The trash truck backs up most roads. He backs up my road and turns around. It’s not unsafe for them to do that.”

 

A waiting game

The bill is currently awaiting hearing in the House Government Committee, where it could stay for some time — or even for the whole session. 

“We just have to wait and see if they hear it,” Presnell said. “They may not.”

For a legislative committee to hear a local bill like Presnell’s, it’s typically expected that it have the support of the entire local delegation. In this case, that’s not true. Davis is waiting until the bill reaches the Senate, if it ever does, to state a position, and Queen is opposed to it. 

“She is taking one bad apple who has been fraudulent in presenting his case in every way, and she is using that as an excuse for an overreaching bill that could have big consequences statewide,” Queen said. 

Such a bill, Queen said, could open a can of worms when it comes to other people, in other localities, who for one reason or another want to be de-annexed from their towns. 

Wight agrees, though he doesn’t see that as a negative outcome. 

“You could be opening up a case-by-case scenario that most governments would not want to go down,” he said, “but does that mean that you’re going to violate his rights?”

A similar phenomenon happened in Maggie Valley in 2012, after the board voted in Maniscalco’s favor. Within a month of the vote, four people came forward asking that their properties be de-annexed too. However, Presnell said that none of those people have contacted her office. 

“Not one person up there other than Mr. Maniscalco has contacted my office,” Presnell said. “I have heard not one word, not one phone call from any of them. If they have an issue, they need to call me.”

However, odds are that no action will come of the bill. 

“That’s for me a 2 percent bill,” Wight said. “It would be a long shot for it making it all the way to the floor.”

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