By Rick Becker
As with almost anything political, [Jerry] Simpson’s diatribe contains some truth along with a whole lotta misdirection and spin.
Simpson is correct that the utility rate increase really is much less of a “big deal” than certain people are making it out to be. Since this huge and growing system operated for 11 years with no increases and then only 6.5% annual increases for three years and a future 31% for the next two, the total increase of 50.5% actually will have occurred over a 16-year period, for an average annual increase of 3.16%. That’s actually fairly reasonable.
Now, Simpson has been on the board of county commissioners since 2010, so why he sat back and allowed zero rate increases for seven years isn’t adequately explained in this manifesto, so “inquiring minds” might need to ask: Since you’re now so gung-ho to raise rates now, where were you while costs were increasing and not being addressed, Mr. Simpson?
But the bottom line is, the big “sticker-shock” rate increase really isn’t what its critics make it out to be; it is simply a political “red-herring” thrown out to confuse voters to back another one of “Stony’s Cronies,” candidate [David] Williams, who is running on this issue as Rushing’s hand-picked puppet. Yes, I admit it: I actually agree with Simpson on something.
There is where my agreement ends, though. Simpson keeps talking about excessive and irresponsible growth in Union County, even claiming that the 40% growth between 1970 and 1990 (2% per year … we should be so lucky to only be seeing 2% per year nowadays) was the problem when the real problem started around 1990 with the election of developers, Realtors, builders, land investors and other members of the “development food chain” to the board of county commissioners and to a few municipal boards. I moved to Union County in 1987, buying an existing house on 3.5 acres in the woods at a time when most of Union County still stuck to its 1-acre minimum lot size and didn’t provide massive water and sewer infrastructure so that developers and land investors could get rich by building massive high-density subdivisions on one-10th-acre lots. It was an OK place to live then, and development still took place – for a while – on large “country” lots with lots of charm.
And while Simpson himself didn’t become part of the problem until 2010, he’s certainly signed on to exacerbate the problem, approving high-density rezonings of county-regulated land like the recent abomination of a 600-house disaster on Potter Road between Wesley Chapel and Mineral Springs. That mess is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Union County has been approving high-density rezonings for years, and all of the current BOCC members have been on board this “No Developer Left Behind” runaway freight train. And while some municipalities – specifically Waxhaw and Indian Trail – shoulder quite a bit of blame for some of the WORST overdevelopment disasters in the past 20 years where Union County didn’t control the zoning, the BOCC made dang sure that it sent massive water and sewer lines into those municipalities to allow the municipalities to rezone for their developer cronies (usually big campaign donors).
Union County has been guilty of gross malfeasance in its development policies, and for Simpson to put the innocent look on hie e-face and ask “who, me???” when confronted with condemnation by a rightfully enraged public is misleading spin (to put it most kindly). His whine about the $750 million Union County (taxpayers) spent on all those shiny new schools in the west is just more spin: I live in “the west” and none of that $750 million flowed into schools serving my town (not that I would have wanted it to), yet my neighbors and I have been paying on those bonds for 20 or 30 years while the people moving here and filling up those schools are just paying for their first year! Our schools were fine in 1990 and they would have remained fine if the Union County Board of County Commissioners hadn’t turned our county into a developer-feeding trough.
So let’s not let David Williams and Stony Rushing deflect citizens’ attention into a made-up “scandal” over water and sewer rates, but neither should we fall for Simpson’s claim of all innocence and purity like yesterday’s new-fallen snow.
The problem is, Union County taxpayers have been stuffing money into the pockets of developers and land investors for decades, and Union County commissioners have been the ones shoving their hands into our pockets and pulling out those piles of money to hand to their developer cronies.
The cost of the new schools, the devastating traffic congestion, the declining environmental quality and – worst of all — the massive property tax increases over the past 30 years could have been less severe if only Union County commissioners had been looking out for county residents instead of developers and land investors.
Now we have commissioners like Simpson telling us that there’s nothing they could have done to prevent this growth and expecting us to relieve him of responsibility for the resulting problems … while he’s still approving even more rezonings for more irresponsible high-density development.
An old expression about me feeling water hitting my leg while he’s telling me “it’s raining” comes to mind.
Rick Becker wrote this in reply to a Union County Weekly Facebook post promoting Union County Commissioner Jerry Simpson’s article, “The facts behind rising utility rates.”