By Mark Wineka
Taking advantage of a public comment period near the end of Salisbury City Council’s meeting Tuesday, several N.C. 150 residents spelled out their objections to being forcibly annexed by the city.
But a prepared city staff, led by City Manager David Treme, made a few points of their own about annexation law, sales tax receipts, long-range revenue projections, water-sewer extensions and more.
City Councilman Mark Lewis also said he was angered by personal attacks aimed at his family and business from a small percentage of annexation opponents.
Denouncing those attacks, Lewis said he would nonetheless be able to “put that aside” when it comes to a vote on the annexation in April.
“I’ll ask the questions we need to ask,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson acknowledged that he had been “catching heck” in recent weeks about the involuntary annexation proposal, which would take in eight residential subdivisions along N.C. 150 and a portion of the Rowan County Airport.
As they did almost a decade ago, residents have organized a group called Good Neighbors of Rowan County, which has a 13-member steering committee. The group is raising money and has hired the same law firm as the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to challenge the annexation in court.
Good Neighbors of Rowan County will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Locke Fire Department on N.C. 150 to update residents and plan more strategies.
A city-conducted annexation information meeting for the public will be held at 7 p.m. March 27 at the Civic Center, 315 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. A formal public hearing will be held at 4 p.m. April 8 at City Hall, 217 S. Main St.
If council votes for it, the annexation would be effective June 30.
Woodson said council was trying to do its best for citizens and proceed in a professional manner. Salisbury is growing, he said, and he told annexation opponents in the audience Tuesday that the city needed good neighborhoods with good people as they would be.
The annexation would add an estimated 1,699 people to the city’s population.
Treme said he has read stories in the newspaper, letters to the editor and e-mails about the annexation. He also has had “a number of people to drop by,” he said.
Treme tried to address some of the questions, statements and misconceptions that are continually repeated.
Here were some of the points made by Treme and his staff Tuesday:
– Council is undertaking a lawful action, passed in 1959 by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. Until the law changes, cities such as Salisbury have the right to expand and take in citizens. “This is done all over the state of North Carolina,” Treme said.
– The annexation report says Salisbury’s net income from the first year would be $33,588. But Treme and Management Services Director John Sofley said the annexation is a long-term decision that over a period of time will make economic sense for the city.
Sofley noted that one-time start-up costs of $571,000, along with contractual obligations in the early years to fire and garbage services, lead to the small net income at first. But the annexation report is only a first-year snapshot, he said.
In five years, the annexation area will mean at least an extra $200,000 annually, he said.
– For every $1 in sales tax revenues, Salisbury receives 6 cents; Rowan County, 23 cents. Over the past 10 years and several other annexations, Salisbury’s percentage increase in sales tax revenues has only gone up nine-tenths of 1 percent, Sofley said.
It’s not that the city would be taking sales tax dollars out of the county’s hands, it’s just keeping its share, he added. Also, two-thirds of the sales tax revenues generated in Rowan County come from Salisbury, even though it only gets to keep 6 cents on the dollar.
– Most cities require citizens in forced annexations to hook onto the water-sewer system and pay connection and assessment fees. Salisbury does not have mandatory hookups.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Interim Director Jim Behmer also emphasized that people in the annexation area who want utility service can pick up the request forms now, fill them out and submit them. The sign-up period is not just the five days after the public hearing.
– Treme stressed that Salisbury is not “cherry-picking” ó going after higher-end neighborhoods while skipping over less affluent ones. Anyone who has followed Salisbury’s annexations over the years would recognize that’s not the case, Treme said.
Also, people should not be surprised Salisbury is growing to the west and south ó that has been the plan since 1988, he said.
– Treme said city residents could make the complaint ó often reversed by annexation opponents ó that they pay county taxes which go toward things from which they derive no benefit.
“This thing works both ways,”‘ Treme said.
Mark Davis, president of Good Neighbors of Rowan County, said his group does not promote or condone personal attacks. The residents organized to fight the annexation and change the state law so that people in a proposed annexation area would be allowed to vote it up or down, he said.
Davis and Benny Hendrix raised concerns about people living paycheck to paycheck having to face the additional burden of city taxes.
Sam Sobataka argued that a sound, fair, uniform annexation ó as described in a city resolution previously ó would look like a logical extension of the urban area on a map, not as convoluted as this one does.
Slavery in the 19th century was lawful, but it wasn’t right, Sobataka said. The same could be said about the state’s involuntary annexation law, he added.
Bill Owens said the annexation law is broken and needs a major overhaul. It’s written for cities, not citizens, he added.
Owens also brought to the city’s attention that its annexation report used the incorrect city tax rate in its calculations. The revenue report was based on a former tax rate of 62.5 cents per $100 valuation, not the current 59.5 cents per $100 valuation.
Sofley said an amended annexation report would make the correction. Owens said the change will wipe out the $33,000 profit the city thought it would see in the first year.
Another resident off N.C. 150 said if Salisbury annexed the area it would be bringing in and creating some highly vindictive voters who together could possibly unseat City Council members.
Mary Lynn Connors read the names of almost 30 other Hidden Hut residents who oppose the annexation.Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka