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Originally published: 2013-04-12 15:59:35
Last modified: 2013-04-13 10:35:16

Boone disappointed, questions county's legal analysis

by Anna Oakes

The town of Boone issued a statement Friday expressing disappointment that the Watauga County Board of Commissioners has "rejected (the town's) invitation to participate in mediation" in an ongoing dispute over Boone's new multi-family housing standards.

"The town has received the unwelcome news that the county has rejected their invitation to participate in a mediation to try to resolve the county's threat to sue the town," the statement said. "We are very disappointed."

The town requested a private mediation with the county commissioners after Republican commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller suggested possible legal and administrative actions -- including altering Boone's sales tax revenues -- in response to Boone's recent changes to its multi-family housing standards.

Miller, developer Phil Templeton and others have said the changes jeopardize an $18.9 million offer from Templeton Properties on the former Watauga High School property and permanently decrease the land's value.

Miller said he would be willing to sit down with the Boone Town Council but not behind closed doors, noting he believed such a meeting would violate North Carolina open meeting laws.

County Attorney Stacy Eggers IV further explained the county's opposition to a closed session meeting in a memo dated April 11. He said his reading of the law indicated that it would be illegal for the boards to meet in private for this purpose.

County Manager Deron Geouque relayed that information to Town Manager Greg Young, the Town Council and the Board of Commissioners in an email Thursday.

"The commissioners still wish to meet with the town to have an open dialogue to facilitate a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties," Geouque wrote. "The town may provide a mediator in which the county would still participate so long as the meeting remains open to the public."

Geouque further proposed that the boards meet Sunday.

"The town disagrees with the county's legal analysis," the town of Boone's statement indicated. "We hope the county will reconsider and that the commissioners will also reconsider their threat of legal action and the change in the sales tax."

The statement adds, "We think it is ironic that mediation in parallel closed sessions was exactly the way the town and county settled their differences over the landfill when Stacy Eggers Jr. was county attorney."

Counties have the authority to change the distribution method of sales and use taxes prior to each fiscal year.

Miller has proposed changing local sales tax distribution from a per capita method to an ad valorem method. If the change occurred, Boone and Watauga County would lose money, while the towns of Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock and Seven Devils would gain substantially.

Miller suggests a hybrid distribution model that would cut Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock and Seven Devils' revenue gains but also prevent the county from losing money from the new distribution method.

Democratic commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy recently told Watauga Democrat that they have been left out of the sales tax discussions.

-- Kellen Moore contributed to this article.