By Jesse Wood
Nov. 21, 2014. In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Republican-led Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to intervene in the lawsuit between the Town of Boone and the state regarding the abolishment of the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
The commissioners made the motion after closed session on Tuesday evening.
This summer the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation sponsored by the recently re-elected Sen. Dan Soucek to eliminate the town’s ETJ. The Town of Boone then announced in October that it filed a lawsuit against the state to challenge the legislation, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, at which time land in the ETJ will be under the jurisdiction of the county.
County Deron Geouque said commissioners’ motion to intervene by “opposing an injunction into the Town of Boone’s pleadings” was made by Commissioner Perry Yates and seconded by Commissioner David Blust.
County Attorney Four Eggers said he is going to try to get this request to the courts before the three-judge panel in Wake County holds a hearing on the case in mid December.
Eggers added that assisting the N.C. Attorney General’s Office would be advantageous to the county so the state office knows the “details of what’s actually happening on the ground” instead of the three-judge panel just hearing the Town of Boone’s side of the story.
“Having the local folks involved in this helps to address local questions that may come up,” Eggers said.
Democratic Commissioner John Welch said this item “came as a surprise” on Tuesday.
“[The county] own a very minimal amount of property within the ETJ,” Welch said, adding that he thinks it’s below 50 acres and includes the transfer station, old Caldwell Community College properties and Brookshire Park.
Geouque didn’t immediately return a question on exactly how much land the county owns in the ETJ.
Welch asked county staff how much this move would cost and was told that it would cost about $10,000. Welch added that this is an open-ended figure because no one knows how long the legal process will take or how long the Town of Boone is willing to fight to oppose the abolishment of it’s authority in the ETJ.
“I think this is more of a petty and unnecessary expense for county resources to go into this for what little property we do own in the ETJ. I would have like to have seen the money spent on better things and I don’t think it’s smart for us to give an open ended check of county resources to a lawsuit that doesn’t really affect us,” Welch said.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy had a similar comment stating that he will keep an eye out on how much this costs the county.
“I don’t think we should be in the middle of it. I think it’s a waste of county money, but I am a minority on the board,” Kennedy said. “We’ll see out it plays out.”
Yates, who made the motion and is an in-law of the Templeton family of developers who have fought to eliminate the ETJ for some time, said that he made this motion to protect the county’s interest in land that it owns in the ETJ.
“Well, the county has land in the Town of Boone and the ETJ,” Yates said, adding that the county, however, shouldn’t be involved in the real estate or banking business.
“If [the commissioners] decided to do anything with property for the betterment of the people in the county, it shouldn’t be blocked by rules and regulations in my personal opinion,” Yates said. “I just think whether it’s the commission or anybody else, they should have the freedom to do what they want to [with their land] and not be strangled by rules and regulations they didn’t put on it.”
For more stories on the ETJ issue, click here.