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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Towns push back on county fees

Henderson County administrators and the elected Board of Commissioners are quick to criticize the state Legislature when the state body delays critical decisions that affect the county budget.

Given that, it’s surprising to see County Manager Steve Wyatt and board Chairman Tommy Thompson treating the county’s towns the same way. The towns can’t complete work on their budgets because the county won’t say how much it will charge for fire inspections. The issue came to a head last week in a meeting of the Local Government Council for Cooperative Action when mayors pleaded with Wyatt and Thompson to hurry up and decide how much they will charge towns for fire inspections and potentially other services.
“Let’s not wait too long,” Mills River Mayor Larry Freeman said. “We’re all working on our individual budgets right now.”
His appeal was to no avail. Henderson County commissioners won’t see Wyatt’s recommended budget until May 20 — the week after Mills River holds its own budget workshop.
“It is a work in progress,” Thompson said. “We can’t tell you what it is. We’re working on it and trying to make sure it comes across well.”
Nothing has come across well since the county started making vague threats two months ago about charging towns for services. The main focus then was on sheriff’s department services. An analysis by the county showed that the cost of answering calls was $180,000 in Flat Rock and $800,000 in Mills River. But the number that galls Thompson and the Board of Commissioners is a bigger one: $24 million. That’s how much sales tax money has shifted from the county to Flat Rock, Mills River and Fletcher from 2004 to 2014. In that 10-year span, Fletcher has received $11.2 million, Flat Rock $4.5 million and Mills River $8.2 million.
The mayors know that the sales tax allocation is the real reason the Board of Commissioners are trying to dream up some sort of giveback. They are pushing back, for good reason in our view.
“We’re spending a million dollars a year on law enforcement,” said Fletcher Mayor Bill Moore. “We’re utilizing that sales tax money. Our budget is $450,000 a year in parks and recreation. That doesn’t do anything but enhance Henderson County. It enhances your recreation and what you folks are trying to do. You can concentrate on other areas of the county in recreation and their needs and not be concerned about Fletcher.”
We have not seen the city of Hendersonville check IDs of the people flocking to Main Street, where the city has spent $4 million on infrastructure improvements and design enhancements, to make sure they’re city taxpayers; nor have we seen similar ID checks in Mills River and Flat Rock, whose taxpayers shelled out hundreds of thousands for improvements.
Henderson County and its towns have made a lot of progress over the past two years in intergovernmental communication and cooperation. The county’s effort to extract more money from city taxpayers threatens to erode that base of goodwill.