While there certainly have been taxing issues between county and town in the past, the recent tsunami of a water and sewer fee bill for the new county recreation center is a boondoggle of gigantic proportions.
Based on submitted information received from the county, the town of Boone on June 11, 2018, provided the county with an estimate of water and sewer impact fees for the projected recreation center services totaling $69,382.50.
Based on more specific information and rule changes, the county received in November 2018 an invoice for $495,305.13.
County commissioners on Sept. 17, 2019, reluctantly and under protest agreed to pay the increased bill from the county’s general fund before penalties could be assessed. After all, nobody wants the water to their home turned off, and especially not before the house is even built.
And based on an estimated increase of nearly 614 percent, we’d utter protest, too.
In fact, might not the average citizen be more than reluctant to dip into their fund balance to pay such an unexpected and bloated bill?
Of course they would. And more, they’d be looking for someone to blame. But in this case, where does the culpability lie?
That’s where it gets interesting.
Boone Town Manager John Ward contends that the original estimate was based on information provided by the county and its engineering firm.
Yet, only eight days after the county provided information for an estimate, Boone Town Council altered its rules by doubling the town’s water and sewer development fees, and using a more accurate calculation of implementing fees. The result was the November invoice of nearly half a million dollars.
Further, to add additional depth to the issue, a letter to the county from Boone Public Works Department Director Rick Miller dated Aug. 28, 2019, indicated that the invoice was payable in 30 days — another rule change in mid-stream — after formerly indicating the fee was not payable until the county connected services, with a penalty of 1.25 percent monthly, about $6,200 per month, for delay of payment.
The elastic credibility of fairness only stretches but so far.
Certainly, more than one taxpayer will remember previous rule changes in 2013 — affirmed each April by not reverting the method — by the county in altering sales tax distribution from per capita to ad valorem, drastically cutting revenues to the town of Boone by about $2 million annually.
Do the waters clear? Does that bring us today to an issue of retaliation, or is Boone simply being a good steward of its resources in more accurately assessing service fees?
And on the question of stewardship, where is the county’s role? Did county officials not note Boone’s rule changes in 2018 and question how its estimate might be affected? Certainly there are county fiscal watchdogs in place where hundreds of thousands of tax dollars are in the balance. Right?
Could Boone have been more forthcoming before dropping an invoice such as this on the county? Of course.
But the bigger question: Why are these two stewards of the public trust apparently not communicating for the good of all of their citizens?
As this debacle develops, the waters become more than muddy. They risk either in actuality, or at the least in public perception, becoming pools of disorganization, retribution and civic ineffectiveness.