Commissioners Approve Creation of Service District

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 24, 2004

JACKSON – Emotions ran high Monday during a public hearing regarding the proposed tax district for Lake Gaston property owners.

After listening to comments from nearly 40 citizens, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the creation of a special Lake Gaston Watershed Improvement District.

Prior to the decision however, which included withholding the approval of a tax levy until such time that Halifax, Warren, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties commit to a prorated funding share of financial support towards a total treatment plan for the entire waters of Lake Gaston, citizens sounded off.

&uot;I’m against the creation of the watershed district,&uot; said Marvin Ball when addressing commissioners at the meeting in a consistent theme of opposition.

&uot;I can’t understand why a few thousand property owners around the lake would be responsible for the entire treatment of this problem.&uot;

Others dissatisfied with the proposal, argued that since property owners aren’t the only ones who access the public lake they should not be singled out for paying taxes to maintain it and stated that it was unfair to create another tax on property owners who receive a disproportionate amount of services for their existing taxes.

&uot;We don’t have children in county schools, we are not on welfare and we get very little from the county for our taxes,&uot; said property owner Barbara Tabor who spoke on behalf of herself and her parents.

&uot;Where is our county funded recreation center, our fire and rescue protection and police presence? Yes, we have county water and trash service, but we pay for those things. We have nothing else from the county,&uot; she said.

Limited or inability to pay additional taxes due to retired status and/or fixed income, fell among the list of complaints as did the fear that there would be no guarantee of treatment to the tax payers area adjacent to their property.

&uot;What guarantee do we have that our little piece of paradise will be treated,&uot; stated Tabor. &uot;Our cove has been treated once since the weed treatment started and I have cut, removed, dried and burned hundreds of pounds of Hydrilla only to watch it float in again from across the lake.&uot;

She continued, &uot;The weed council treated our cove the second year of the program and it worked, but after that time, the council and weed consultants told us that our cove would never be sprayed.

&uot;Their reasoning was that the cove was small and emptied too fast so spraying would not work, so almost all the families on our cove hire a private firm to spray and guess what, it works.&uot;

Property owner Nina Matthews addressed the board stating, &uot;There is a common misconception that people who live on the lake have all this money, but many of the people who own property here are retired and on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford to have an additional tax.&uot;

Matthews also presented the commissioners with a petition of over 530 signatures of those opposed to the tax.

&uot;I believe if we work hard to put pressure on the state to help, it can be done,&uot; she said promising more signatures.

During the hearing, commissioners admitted written remarks from citizens who could not attend the gathering while those in attendance offered a variety of suggestions to help with financing to address the weed problem.

&uot;I don’t think Northampton County ought to be the only county paying,&uot; said retired property owner Lawrence Palmer. &uot;This problem is more than a county problem.&uot; Palmer suggested that Dominion Power, which is one of two electric companies that derives hydro-electric power from the lake, should help with preventive maintenance in addition to tacking on a fee or tax to boaters and fishermen that use the lake for recreation.

Floyd and Barbara Porter, who were unable to attend the meeting, but submitted a written statement to the board stating, &uot;The aquatic problem cannot be solved by taxation of Northampton Property owners. The problem is with the whole lake… Presently hundreds of bass tournaments are held on the lake. Most are non-property owners…why should we pay for their contribution to the problem?&uot;

Weed Control Council’s John Slaton emphasized the importance of personal responsibility and &uot;being a good neighbor&uot; and stood against the idea that Dominion should pay for all the treatment, but suggested that since the benefit from it they should offer to pay for some of it and stated that even though it went against his principles of personal responsibility and being a good neighbor he supported the tax district as the best way to handle the problem.

Causing a stir, many attributed the weed problem to contaminated boats and other recreational &uot;water toys&uot; coming in and out of the lake and suggested a fee/tax be imposed to help pay for the treatment.

&uot;I have the following suggestions,&uot; stated Tabor citing a $25 Hydrilla charge on all boats that enter the lake for fishing tournaments and a designation of five cents from existing taxes paid to the county to be used for treatment.

She also pleaded with the county to consider basing the amount of taxes to be charged on the amount of waterfront footage if they insisted on having a taxing district.

Another suggestion included the possibility of instituting additional fees for new investors or builders of new homes.

Despite the overall opposition, many of the residents commented that they would be happy to be included in the tax if the other counties, and North Carolina and Virginia would participate in the remediation/maintenance efforts.

&uot;I am willing to help as long as the cost is spread equally to all those who benefit,&uot; stated William Cooper in a letter submitted to commissioners in his absence.

Wilton Ford, a property owner from the Virginia side sympathized with his fellow property owners about the proposed tax, but stated that he felt there was no other way.

&uot;I feel sorry for the other people who are worried about their property values,&uot; he said. &uot;I hear your anger. I don’t like taxes either, but unless someone comes up with a better solution. I don’t see any other way.&uot;

At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairwoman Virginia Spruill thanked the citizens for their input and attendance and commended everyone for their contribution to the meeting.

&uot;I think this speaks to the goodness of the citizens of the county,&uot; she said.

&uot;I believe the decision is clear to approve the district,&uot; said Vice Chair Robert Carter. &uot;The Weed Control Council has invested time and money to get it approved and we approve it, but the next step is getting the other counties on board.&uot;

&uot;This is a very hard decision, especially being that it is my district,&uot; said Commissioner Fannie Greene. &uot;I hope it will be workable for everybody.&uot; The board approved the decision 4-5.

Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins commended the governing board for their composure and professionalism and offered his support for the decision.

&uot;I believe the decision reached today was the correct one,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s obvious this is an emotional issue. We all want a solution and I believe this is the vehicle that will allow that to happen.&uot;

Jenkins stated that the county would continue to explore all options.