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Town gains power to shut off water for delinquent taxpayers in area

Originally published: Nov. 8, 2012
Last modified: Nov. 8, 2012

Jesse Campbell

West Jefferson gained some leverage against delinquent tax payers Monday evening by voting 3-1 to allow the cut off of water services to residents who fail to pay their taxes within a certain time period. 

Aldermen Calvin Green cast the dissenting vote, defending his stance by pointing the town's current tax collection rate of 98 percent as already being sufficient. 

Additions to the current ordinance (Chapter 34) now gives the town authority to shut off water services to those who fail to pay real or personal property taxes. 

Once their taxes are paid, the property owner would also have to pay a $50 reconnection fee to continue their water services. 

Town officials, however, have said they will use discretion in using this measure and changes to the current ordinance in place were to give them a tool in collecting unpaid taxes. 

Town Manager Brantley Price said officials would examine each delinquent tax issues case by case and that changes to the measure is not intended to put any resident in dire straits.

“This is just another avenue we can use,” said Price. 

“It is smart to have some measure in place,” said Aldermen Stephen Shoemaker, who reiterated the town would use discretion in enforcing the cut off of water services. 

The decision did not bode with everyone in attendance. 

Town maintenance officials questioned how officials with the district's health department, which might see the measure as a violation of sanitation code, would view the amendment. 

Town Attorney David Paletta defended the board's position, saying it “did not need the health department's permission to enforce ordinances.”

During the public comment period, resident Mike Sawyer said chastised the board by saying “using indirect means of coercion to enforce tax ordinances is unethical and immoral.”

Shoemaker again defended the board's decision.

“We are not unethical or immoral,” said Shoemaker. “If we don't have taxes, we can't do our job. We do the very best with what we have.”

Town approves hazard mitigation plan

West Jefferson Aldermen voted unanimously to approve the High Country Mitigation Plan following a public hearing. 

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners have already approved the regional plan and officials are now in the process of collecting the approval of affected municipalities. 

Patty Gambill, Ashe County's Coordinator of Emergency Management, said the plan was developed to set goals for hazard mitigation and includes everything from properly maintaining storm drains to building code regulations. 

Price said the town must adopt a plan to become eligible for FEMA disaster relief funds. 

West Jefferson received $15,000 from FEMA for an ice storm that occurred two years ago, said Price. 

ABC Report

Haskell McGuire of the West Jefferson ABC Board gave town aldermen an update of the store's financial report.

McGuire said the store's numbers were down 4.6 percent in the first quarter compared to the same quarter of last year, but is hopeful they will make up the deficit in the next quarter with the coming holiday season. 

McGuire also reported the store had “no negative findings” and a received  “clean bill of health” through a recent audit of finances. 

McGuire added there was no evidence of noncompliance issues within the report and the store's assets now exceeds its liabilities. 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.