Boone considering action against county
by Anna Oakes
The Boone Town Council is now considering taking legal action against Watauga County, according to the council's recent meeting agenda.
The stated purpose of the closed session discussion added to the agenda on Thursday was to consult with the town attorney "to consider and give instructions concerning the handling or settlement of a claim or judicial action against Watauga County."
When asked if the council is considering suing the county, Councilman Andy Ball replied, "That was the substance of the discussion last night, but I cannot provide a comment on it at this time."
Ball did not immediately respond to an email asking if the action being considered is related to the town's dispute with the county over the past few months.
The two governmental bodies have been embroiled in a dispute since the town council enacted new multi-family housing standards in February, which county commissioners chairman Nathan Miller and others said threatened an $18.9 million offer for the county's old high school property.
Developer Phil Templeton later withdrew the offer for the project, stating the housing standards and other Boone regulations made the project unfeasible.
But before Templeton withdrew his offer, Miller responded to Boone's ordinance changes by threatening to sue the town and by proposing a change to local sales tax distribution that would result in an estimated $2 million loss in Boone revenue. The Republican-led commissioners enacted the sales tax change by a 3-2 vote in April.
Councilwoman Lynne Mason said she could not confirm if the action being considered is related to the sales tax change or the recent dispute with the county.
"When it's ready for open session, it will be done in open session," she said. "I just can't make any comment right now."
The council met in closed session five times between March and May to discuss Miller's threat of a lawsuit against the town. Ball said Thursday's meeting was the first time the council discussed action against Watauga County.
When asked Friday about the council's consideration of action against the county, Miller said, "I can only assume it's over the sales tax."
Miller pointed to a 1989 N.C. Supreme Court decision that upheld the county's last change in sales tax distribution, which was challenged by the town of Beech Mountain. The North Carolina General Statutes direct boards of county commissioners to determine the method of local sales and use tax revenue distribution in April of each year, giving two options: the ad valorem method or the per capita method.
The commissioners recently switched from a per capita method to an ad valorem method, under which Boone stands to lose approximately $2 million in sales tax revenue, while Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock and Seven Devils will see more revenue.
Watauga County would have lost some revenue with the change, too, but Miller negotiated an agreement with the three smaller towns to return some revenue to the county so that the county would also see a gain.
"If that's what the lawsuit's about, if they want to waste more
taxpayer money suing us ... we'll let the courts decide," Miller said. "We feel confident that
what we did was within the bounds of the law and legal."