Old WHS deal still up in the air
by Kellen Moore
Watauga County commissioners are still waiting to hear whether Boone ordinance changes passed three weeks ago will hinder an $18.9 million offer on the former high school property.
Commissioners said Monday they have received no official word from Templeton Properties about whether it intends to move forward on the deal. The development company has about two and a half months left in its inspection period.
Neither Phil Templeton nor his attorney, Allen Moseley, could be reached by press time Tuesday.
But commissioners aren't sitting around biting their nails.
Board members are considering a variety of responses to the ordinance changes ranging from sitting down with the Town Council to exploring a lawsuit or changing the sales tax distribution in retaliation.
"We're strategizing at the moment, but without having a concrete plan in place, I can't really tell you which way we're learning and which way we're not," said Chairman Nathan Miller.
Miller said he and others have been researching whether the county would have any grounds on which to challenge the ordinance changes through the legal system.
He said his preliminary research led him to believe that parts of Boone's multi-family housing ordinance may violate a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case relating to what constitutes a family.
Vice Chairman David Blust said he didn't know enough about the legal side but would support a court challenge if there were a way to do it.
Blust said the county also may consider changing the sales tax distribution method, which could drastically reduce the amount of tax revenue Boone receives.
Commissioners made a similar threat after a 2011 quarrel with the Town Council over who should appoint Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction residents to the Boone Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment.
The towns within the Watauga County currently receive a portion of sales tax revenues on a per capita basis, based on population. The county could elect to switch to an ad valorem basis, in which money would be distributed based on property values.
The likely result would be less money to Boone, a population center, and more money to areas like Blowing Rock, which generally has higher property values.
"Maybe we're going to have to play some hardball here," Blust said. "This is critical."
County Manager Deron Geouque said the idea was merely being discussed right now, and he has not been instructed to take any steps at this point.
If the county intends to change the distribution, the board would have to act fast.
"They'd have to adopt a resolution prior to the end of April and send that to the Department of Revenue telling them they're requesting a change in the distribution of the sales tax revenue from a per capita basis to an ad valorem basis," Geouque said.
The change, if requested, would likely become effective in July, he added.
"It's an option; it's always an option," Miller said.
Aside from a lawsuit or sales tax changes, the county also may not look favorably upon future requests from the town -- including those related to the proposed Boone water intake or other actions, Miller warned.
"There's all kinds of stuff that could come before us that they would need, and if they needed that, it would be a tough sell, especially right now," he said.
The three commissioners newer to the board seemed to favor a more measured response to working with the town.
Commissioner Perry Yates, who is Templeton's son-in-law, expressed frustration that the town would not delay its vote to hear from the county but said he's still interested in reaching a compromise.
"I wish we could work together," Yates said. "I had hopes that we could do that, and I wanted to do that."
Commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy agreed.
"I figure when you get lawyers involved, it's more conflict, and if you can avoid that by negotiation and mediation, it's much more productive," Kennedy said.
Miller said it's his understanding that Templeton may be exploring partnerships to see whether the project can progress in some format that meets the ordinance.
Until the county hears yea or nay, it's just a waiting game.
"Outside of pleading and begging with the town of Boone, and showing them that they're going to kill this deal not only for Mr. Templeton but anybody else, I'm not sure what else we can do," Blust said.