Cary weighs in on environment, town rights

aspecht@newsobserver.comMarch 16, 2014 

— Preserving the environment and municipal rights are on Cary leaders’ minds as the General Assembly prepares to convene in May.

The Cary Town Council unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday asking state lawmakers to:

• Reinstate Jordan Lake cleanup plans passed in 2009 and delayed by the legislature last year;

• Grant municipalities a say in regulating shale gas exploration;

• Oppose House Bill 150, which limits the ability of local government to regulate residential development based on appearance.

“This is something that I’d really like us to work on getting out to our citizens so they understand what’s happening at the state level and what it means to their living here in Cary,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said of the resolution.

Jordan Lake is Cary’s main source of drinking water. Last year, legislators from the Triad successfully pushed to delay lake cleanup rules in favor of a less-expensive plan to use water-circulating devices that some lawmakers claim will curb algae pollution.

Before the delay, the town began implementing nutrient management strategies in accordance with the 2009 cleanup plan.

An alternative plan using the water-circulating devices is expected to go before state lawmakers this year.

“Cary supports the state’s existing Jordan Lake rules, which are a result of years of stakeholder input and, ultimately, a balanced compromise with real potential to make a positive, meaningful and lasting impact on the lake,” the resolution says.

Questions about fracking

Republican state leaders are also in the process of crafting regulation for shale gas extraction, known as fracking, which is currently prohibited throughout the state.

Western Cary is part of a large basin which may contain gas reserves, but the potential for extracting shale gas remains unclear.

Cary doesn’t have fracking rules, but council members say they want “strong” regulations. The resolution asks for a “regulatory framework that protects the health, safety and welfare” of residents and the environment.

“Anytime that you have something that affects the community, you want to have some control of it,” Councilman Jack Smith said after the meeting.

While the council passed the resolution without commenting on the merits or detriments of fracking, some residents involved in town government have already researched the issue and made up their minds.

Cary’s Shale Gas Development Subcommittee agreed in December that it will recommend town leaders ban fracking until the Environmental Protection Agency releases a much-anticipated study on the practice in 2016.

Issues of appearance

Meanwhile, leaders in this aesthetically conscious town hope to preserve their say in housing design.

House Bill 150, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, would prohibit local governments from withholding building permits based on design elements such as building materials or garage size.

The bill should worry any Cary homeowner because property values are at stake, Robinson said.

If the bill passes, local governments would have no recourse against a developer who wants to build a home that’s considered out of character with others in the neighborhood.

“A lot of citizens would be bothered to know that we’d be legally prohibited from responding to their requests for help,” Robinson said.

Despite opposition from local mayors and the N.C. League of Municipalities, the House passed the bill 94-22 last March.

The bill never made it to the Senate floor but can still become law if passed during this year’s session.

Support for privilege tax reform

Cary’s legislative agenda isn’t exclusive to town worries.

The resolution passed by the council expresses support for reforming the municipal privilege tax.

Privilege taxes are fees local governments impose on businesses operating in cities and towns.

Republican lawmakers have said they want to change and possibly eliminate the privilege tax because some municipalities don’t treat businesses equally – some businesses pay a flat fee while others pay a large fee that’s sometimes dependent on revenue or their number of employees.

Cary’s resolution says the town supports making the privilege tax “more consistent, understandable, and easy to collect while both maintaining the tax as significant revenue source and avoiding significant increases in liability for existing taxpayers.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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