By Mark Wineka
What does it take to fight City Hall?
Residents along N.C. 150, whose homes are the target of a city of Salisbury annexation, will tell you it takes $100,000, meetings, petitions, posters, newsletters, door-to-door legwork, bus trips and resolve.
The 300 people who gathered Thursday night at Locke Fire Department pretty much agreed they have to fight now to prevent their property taxes from doubling and make it known statewide that the involuntary annexation law should be changed.
Mark Davis, president of Good Neighbors of Rowan County, said the battle is happening on four fronts:
– The legal fight will cost $100,000, and the Good Neighbors steering committee is asking homeowners to consider contributing a third of the county taxes they pay now toward the cost.
At a minimum, a legal challenge to the annexation will at least delay the time until they have to pay city taxes.
Attorney Ron Bowers, a resident of the area, called it a “no-brainer.” Paying one-third now would probably save two-thirds of an initial year’s cost of annexation, he said.
– The N.C. 150 neighborhoods, including eight subdivisions, are being asked to flood upcoming city meetings with people. Davis said he wants people lined up into the streets for the April 8 public hearing at City Hall.
A large crowd also is expected to converge on the Civic Center at 7 p.m. next Thursday for a city-sponsored informational meeting. Davis encouraged everyone in the annexation area to attend and seek answers to their questions.
The opponents intend to videotape the meeting and keep on a constant lookout for a city miscue that could help their case later.
– On the county front, the group continues to receive strong support from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, who are going to wage their own legal challenge to the annexation.
Commissioners Arnold Chamberlain, Tina Hall and Jim Sides attended Thursday night’s meeting.
The county board and the homeowners’ group have hired the same Asheville firm to try and stop the city’s annexation, which would take in an estimated 1,699 people.
Sides said the city recently spent $35,000 toward coming up with a new city logo, whose catch phrase is “Discover What’s Inside.”
“You know, why don’t they do that?” Sides asked, instead of trying to annex and discover what’s outside the city.
– On the state level, the N.C. 150 residents are closely following the actions of a N.C. House subcommittee looking at the annexation law. The homeowners hope to have a couple of busloads of people attending the subcommittee’s next meeting in Raleigh at 5 p.m. April 9.
Each household in attendance Thursday night also received copies of the formal city request forms for water and sewer extensions to their homes.
They learned it was important to sign up now (they have until April 14) if they ever want to take advantage of possible discounts for water and sewer connections.
But the residents also want to see the city design a water-sewer service extension plan for the entire annexation area and have it determine what the multi-million-dollar cost would be.
“What we’re saying is, if you’re going to annex us, you’re going to run them (water and sewer lines) all the way to the end of Neel Estates,” Davis said.
There’s a strong belief that the city, which for now has only figured in a $4 million cost for extending major trunk lines, could never afford making utility extensions to everyone.
The residents are attaching a sticker to the bottom of their request forms that says, “I do not want to be involuntarily annexed into the city of Salisbury. My current water, septic, garbage and law enforcement services are fully adequate for my needs.”
Bowers assured the residents the sticker would not invalidate their request forms.
“It’s simply a statement of your position” on what amounts to a survey, he said.
The city’s cover letter states in bold letters: “There is no requirement for property owners to connect to the city’s water and sewer utility.”
The group’s legal challenge will have to come within 60 days after the city passes an annexation ordinance, scheduled now for April 21. And Bowers said the residents should make no mistake ó the city will pass that ordinance.
“This is a done deal,” he said.
Bowers said the Asheville attorneys will attend next Thursday’s meeting. They also will crunch the numbers on which the city has stipulated that the areas slated for annexation qualify.
“If there’s a mistake in these figures, these guys will find it,” Bowers said.
Bowers also encouraged anyone in the audience who finds a mistake in the city’s procedures to keep it secret. That information could lead to a victory in court, he said.
Earlier this week, Chamberlain, Sides and Hall attended a public hearing the House annexation subcommittee held in Asheville. An impressive throng of people attended, and most spoke against the state’s annexation law.
“People who spoke against it are us, citizens,” Chamberlain said.
Sides said the mountain citizens made an impression on committee members. He encouraged everyone in the audience to attend the April 9 meeting in Raleigh and to sign up to speak.
“Come with something to say,” he said.
Sides reiterated that the county’s own fight on annexation is to change the state law and also push for a local bill to be introduced in the General Assembly that would place a moratorium on annexations in Rowan County.
The county’s legislative delegation of Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, and Reps. Fred Steen, R-Rowan, and Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, have agreed to sponsor the local bill in this year’s short session.
“It’s a fight worth fighting,” Hall told the large crowd Thursday night. “I think we can win. In fact, I know we can win.”
Hall noted that one speaker in Asheville called forced annexation “snatch-and-grab thievery.”
The speakers in Asheville were in complete outrage, Hall said. They talked with passion and looked the legislative committee members squarely in the eyes, she added.
Bowers agreed that “winning is a definite possibility.”
“But if we lose and we fight, we (still) win,” he said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka