Battle Over Town Status Intensifies Bill That Would Allow Vote On Municipality Nears House Floor

The West Norman incorporation fight has dragged on for months, but battle lines are now etched even deeper.

Supporters and opponents are stepping up lobbying efforts with legislators, who may soon decide the fate of the proposed new Lincoln County town.

In March, the state Senate approved legislation that would allow West Norman residents to vote on incorporation, but the measure has been stuck in the House ever since.

In late May, the bill landed in the Finance Committee for the second time and could come to the House floor for a vote within weeks.

Meanwhile, groups on both sides are firing off letters and e-mails and dispatching delegations to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh. Arguments are the same – just more emphatic.

“All we’re asking is for the legislature to approve a referendum so people can express their opinions,” said West Norman supporter Larry Olmsted. “It’s been a long, hard-fought, very tedious battle.”

Rep. Joe Kiser, R-Lincolnton, Rep. Dan Barefoot, D-Lincolnton, and Rep. Mark Hilton, R-Conover, all said they’ll vote against the bill.

That’s OK, Olmsted said.

“It’s been an uphill battle from day one,” he said. “We haven’t had a champion in the House. Joe Kiser has basically done everything he can do to bury the bill. But we’re still determined and committed. I don’t think the full House will deny the people a vote on this – the local delegation notwithstanding.”

Kiser said he’s responding to the majority on the issue: He’s received petitions with 800 names favoring the bill and 2,000 names against it.

“I haven’t tried to bury the bill,” he said. “I wish I had that kind of power. My reputation for power far exceeds what I’m able to do.”

Getting the measure approved will be hard without the support of the local delegation, he said.

In early February, Sen. Fountain Odom, D-Mecklenburg, who represents part of Lincoln County, introduced the bill calling for the West Norman incorporation referendum.

The proposed town of West Norman, which would sit on the west shore of Lake Norman, would join Lincolnton to become the second town in Lincoln County. West Norman would have about 9,000 residents and an area of 21.5 square miles. Lincolnton, the only other incorporated town, has a population of almost 10,000.

Incorporation supporters say creating a town would let them better control growth and how they are governed.

Critics contend it creates another layer of government and will require new taxes. They say Lincoln County will lose about $1million and Lincolnton will lose an estimated $177,000 each year because of sales-tax revenues that would go to West Norman instead of the county’s and the city’s budget.

Jason Saine, a grass-roots manager for the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the national group is trying hard to kill the bill.

Saine, 27, who lives in Lincolnton, is against higher taxes “whether I live in West Norman or not.” He thinks supporters’ claims that incorporation would lower taxes in West Norman “is crazy.”

Tuesday, Saine said more than 450 volunteers with Citizens for a Sound

Economy hand-delivered anti-West Norman packages to legislators in Raleigh. Activists with the group called on other lawmakers to reduce the size of government and lower taxes. “We’re not backing off,” Saine said.

Rep. Mary Jarrell, D-Guilford, who serves as co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s joint Commission on Municipal Incorporation, said the commission gave the West Norman bill a favorable review last fall.

“I really don’t have a dog in this (West Norman) fight,” Jarrell said. “But a bill calling for a referendum is certainly one way we can use to find out the people’s wishes. I don’t know why people would oppose a referendum.”

If the bill dies, Olmsted said the incorporation momentum will keep rolling.

“Maybe the area will be annexed by Huntersville. County lines are no problem, ” he said. “I’m sure this area will be incorporated someday. It’s just a matter of when.”