On the Web: Senate Bill 538, "Incorporate Lake James," http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2009/Bills/Senate/PDF/S538v0.pdf

Sen. Jim Jacumin, R-44th District, this week proposed legislation to charter and incorporate the Village of Lake James.

He filed N.C. Senate Bill 538 on Wednesday, the deadline day for entering so-called "local bills" under the Senate's rules.

On Thursday the bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

If both the Senate and House eventually approve the legislation, the General Assembly would charter the Village of Lakes James with "all the powers, duties, rights, privileges, and immunities conferred and imposed on cities by the general laws of North Carolina" — but with some exceptions and one surprise.

The surprise is that Jacumin's bill would allow the village to levy "ad valorem" (property) taxes up to 7.5 cents per $100. In discussions to date, both supporters and opponents of the village's creation have talked about a 5-cents-per-$100 tax. The bill provides that the village could levy an even-higher tax with the approval of two-thirds of the qualified voters in the village.

If the General Assembly charters the village in time, the property taxes could become effective July 1

The exceptions to other North Carolina municipalities' statutory powers — "notwithstanding any other provision of law" — would prohibit the Village of Lakes James from exercising any powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction over properties outside the village boundaries and prohibit the village from annexing any property in McDowell County and from involuntary annexation of any property in Burke County.

Many people have expressed concerns about whether the village can interfere with public access to the popular recreational lake.

Jacumin's bill says the village cannot adopt any ordinances, resolutions or rules that restrict public access to Lake James or interfere in any way with existing agreements between Burke County and the federal government — or any other entity — related to greenways, bicycle or walking trails and parking areas.

Another concern is whether the village will try to get its own ABC store and to pass local liquor laws. Jacumin's bill states, "The Village of Lake James shall not hold a malt beverage, unfortified wine, ABC store or mixed-beverage election under Chapter 18B of the General Statutes or any other general or local law."

Individuals, private corporations, the state itself and public companies all have land in or near the proposed village. Jacumin's bill says the village "may exercise the power of eminent domain as provided in Chapter 40A of the General Statutes only for the public use or benefit.

"The village shall not take private property for the purpose of thereafter conveying an interest in the property to a third party for economic development."

Also, the village is specifically barred from interfering with state, federal or regional licensing that affects Duke Energy's hydroelectric operations.

The five-page bill includes a detailed description of the boundaries for the much-discussed village on the south and southeastern shore of the 10.2-square-mile lake that straddles the Burke and McDowell county lines.

The bill stipulates that the village will have a mayor-council form of government with a seven-member council. The first members, "temporary officers ... until their successors are elected or appointed," are named: Clifford Becktel, Charles Hoffman, Steven Lian, Howard Morgan, James Peterson, Denice Rechtiene and John Stiene. They would be empowered to elect an interim mayor and interim mayor pro tempore.

Jacumin's bill envisions the village's first election occurring on Nov. 3, 2009. All qualified voters would vote for the council members in a non-partisan election. In the first election, the four candidates with the highest numbers of votes would receive four-year terms and the next three highest votegetters would serve two-year terms. All subsequent elections would select council members for four-year terms.

The council will elect a mayor and mayor pro tem from among its members. Their terms are set at two years.

The mayor and members of the village council are to be reimbursed for ordinary and necessary expenses. Whether they're also receive a salary and honoraria would have to be decided by the voters in a special referendum.

The council also will be required to appoint a village attorney and village clerk.

This act is to become effective as soon as it becomes law, but when that might happen is uncertain.

Since 1986, the General Assembly has relied on the Joint Legislative Commission on Municipal Incorporations to make recommendations about proposed municipal incorporations. The commission has received a petition from the proposed village's home and property owners, but hasn't acted on it.

"The legislation creating the commission does not require (it) to first consider a petition to incorporate before a bill to incorporate can be considered by the House of Representatives or the Senate," according to the General Assembly's bill-drafting division. "However, in past years, both the House and Senate have adopted rules providing that a bill to incorporate will not be considered in committee or on the House or Senate floor unless the bill is accompanied by a recommendation from the commission."

In other words, Jacumin's bill likely will remain in legislative limbo until the Joint Commission takes action.

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