- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A fight over who gets to run a water system used by Asheville and two surrounding counties will end up in court this week.

Asheville is suing after North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill last year that moves the assets of the Asheville water department to a regional authority that already handles sewage in the area. Gov. Pat McCrory allowed the bill to become law without his signature because he wanted the issue to be heard by a judge.

Asheville provides water to parts of Buncombe and Henderson counties.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. with hear arguments Friday, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports (http://avlne.ws/1o3DVvV).

The dispute can be traced back all the way to 1933 when a lawmaker pushed a bill through the Legislature preventing Asheville from charging customers outside the city limits more for water. Municipal water systems almost always charge out-of-city customers extra, so they have leverage in annexation disputes and retain control; over where new water lines are installed.

Asheville raised rates for customers outside the city in 1951, but a judge struck that down based on the 1933 law.

In 2004, Asheville leaders tried to end the water agreement. Former Mayor Charles Worley said the city was tired of having to get county approval to raise rates or perform improvements. A year later, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill again preventing Asheville from charging higher rates. The same judge hearing Friday’s case reluctantly upheld the law, writing that its passage in a day was troubling.

The type of demand made on Asheville would be overturned if made between private companies, Manning wrote. But “in the legislative theater of conflict, the legislature has the power and authority to act in the manner in which it did.”

Lawmakers who backed last year’s bill said moving the water system to a regional board should end the dispute between Asheville and the counties once and for all.

But chances are any ruling made by Manning will be appealed, keeping the dispute in court for years to come.

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, http://www.citizen-times.com