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Hillsville, Carroll renew lawsuit

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Having to renew a circuit court case over disputed utility payments seems to have reignited discussions between Carroll County and Hillsville about shared interests.

The county and the town had to reinstate by July 16 the case surrounding water and sewer service payments sought by Hillsville to the Carroll County Industrial Park for 2001 and 2002.

Hillsville's appeal to the circuit court stems from a refusal by Carroll to pay a bill that county officials disagreed with for water and sewer service at the industrial park in the town.

Hillsville had been providing water and sewer capacity of up to 150,000 gallons per day under contract with the county, according to papers filed in the case in Carroll County Circuit Court.

Using the same methods of calculation that had been in force since a 1986 contract, Hillsville billed Carroll County for $71,621 for water and sewer service to the industrial park for the 2001-2002 fiscal year, according to court papers. This amount came due after an increase in costs to the town because of the new sewage treatment facility starting up.

The town's claim for payment was considered and rejected by the Carroll County Board of Supervisors at its June 2003 meeting.

Hillsville appealed that decision to circuit court, saying that "the county's refusal to pay the annual adjustment for the 2001-2002 fiscal year is a breach of the 1986 contract between the parties," according to court papers.

Hillsville has requested a judgment from the court of the utilities fees plus costs, attorneys' fees and interest.

As the case threatened to expire and both parties signed off on its reinstatement, both town and county officials are aware that the 15-year moratorium on annexation between Hillsville and Carroll runs out in 2010.

After that, Hillsville could resume efforts to annex the busy area around the Interstate 77-U.S. 58 interchange.

If that annexation was challenged by Carroll and Hillsville won, then that would scuttle another hallmark of the 1995 annexation agreement — the splitting of the meals and lodging taxes generated at the interstate 50-50 between the county and the town.

Carroll and Hillsville officials continue to try to work out both the utility disagreement and a potential boundary adjustment by the town at the same time.

"It is our hopes and intentions to solve all problems at one time rather than piecemeal," County Administrator Gary Larrowe said.

Even county officials say that the boundaries of Hillsville are likely to grow to take in the interchange.

If an agreement can be reached, then town and county will continue to split the meals and lodging tax revenues.

Representatives of both the county and town agree they do not want to have to resort to the courts and both say they want to work it out through negotiating.

"We have no interest in going to court over anything," said Larrowe.

"We're not looking to go to court and waste peoples' time, energy and resources," said Town Manager Larry South.

Hillsville's goal is to serve the public, and litigation wouldn't do that, he added.

The annexation moratorium doesn't expire until 2010, and the tax revenue that stands to be lost could potentially serve as a good incentive for both parties to work out a deal.

Though final figures for lodging and meals taxes for June weren't in yet, the county treasurer's office estimates that the total revenues for fiscal year 2009 from the interstate area would approach $609,000.

(Under the current agreement, that revenue will be split equally between the county and town.)

"The county cannot stand to lose the revenue from Exit 14," Larrowe said, noting the same is true for the town. "A 50-50 split is much better than a zero-100 split in either direction."

Neither Larrowe or South could predict when an agreement might be reached.

It's actually a good thing that both parties have moved to reinstate the court proceeding, Larrowe said. It's meant to preserve the rights of both parties and to keep both parties talking.

"The real danger would be if this wasn't taking place," the county administrator said.

Offers continue to go back and forth between the two localities.

"I think there's always hope the parties would agree to something that both sides would be happy with," South said.