By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners have gained some allies in their battle with Salisbury over plans to annex neighborhoods along N.C. 150 west.
The county’s state legislative delegation ó Rep. Fred Steen, Rep. Lorene Coates and Sen. Andrew Brock ó promised to introduce a bill putting a moratorium on involuntary annexations in Rowan County until the General Assembly has time to receive a report from a committee reviewing the state’s annexation laws.
Commissioners also voted to identify and hire a specialized annexation attorney to assist with legal action to delay and block the city’s plan.
The proposed involuntary annexation would take in an estimated 1,699 people and add 2,075 acres to the city.
Steen, Coates and Brock stood with a large crowd to show their opposition to forced annexation during the commissioners’ meeting Monday night.
The crowd repeatedly applauded speakers and commissioners who left no doubt about the board’s intent to fight this annexation and work to get the state’s annexation laws changed.
Steen, a member of the the special committee studying annexation laws, said he will recommend restoring a requirement that residents in an area proposed for annexation and city residents must vote. He said 28 of 43 states have laws on the books that require a vote of the people to be annexed.
Until 1959, N.C. law required an election to occur if 15 percent of the affected voters requested it.
The committee is still collecting information, but a report is due in May during the short session of the Legislature. Public hearings are scheduled beginning next month.
Steen told commissioners that there is some support for a statewide moratorium on involuntary annexations until the committee can complete its work, make recommendations and go through the legislative process.
Citing what he called the city’s “aggressive” timetable to complete the annexation by June 30, Commissioner Jim Sides urged the board to support a local moratorium. Commissioners unanimously approved his motion.
“We’ve got a green light,” said Steen, adding that the bill will be eligible for the for the short session since the entire delegation is supporting it.
“I’m totally against forced annexation,” Coates said. “It’s imperative we do something at the state level.”
Brock, a longtime opponent of forced annexation, called the state’s annexation laws Draconian.
Sides, Chairman Arnold Chamberlain and Commissioner Tina Hall also voted to identify and hire and attorney with expertise in annexation. Chamberlain said that move came on the advice of his friend David Treme, Salisbury’s city manager.
“He said there are a lot of good annexation attorneys, you can hire to fight this,” Chamberlain said.
“We just took his advice,” Sides added.
Commissioner Jon Barber spoke out against hiring an attorney, saying it would set a bad precedent for the county to fight the legal battle of private citizens. He also contended the county should work to reform the N.C. Department of Revenue’s tax distribution policies.
County officials estimated the county would lose $1.8 million in revenue after the annexation based on sales tax distributed by population.
Chamberlain pointed out that the county funds schools, libraries, Social Services and health services, many things the city does not provide.
Chamberlain, who lives in Neel Estates and would be annexed under Salisbury’s plan, said the decision to fight isn’t about him.
“I love the city of Salisbury, it’s my hometown,” he said. “The city has annexed enough. Enough is enough.”
Chamberlain went on to express his hope that the city will listen to the county and to residents in the area proposed for annexation.
He read portions of an e-mail he sent to the Salisbury Post, concluding that he “hopes the Post will question the Salisbury city government and their elected officials as directly and as fairly as you do the county commissioners.”
Hall said the proposed N.C. 150 annexation is “not the American way.”
“When Salisbury offers more benefits, there will be people standing in line” to get into the city, she said. “They are not standing in line.”
While commissioners blasted Salisbury, residents of the affected area assailed the city’s action as immoral, irresponsible, un-American and fascist.
Ray Paradowski, a resident of Neel Estates and the longtime chairman of the board at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said the proposal makes no sense.
Harry Rivera, a military veteran and Hispanic resident, said he chose Rowan County as the place to raise his family, but “now you have the city trying to make promises they can’t keep. … Their focus is on blatantly grabbing money. … It’s a blatant shame.”
Rivera said he has fought in military actions to protect his country. Now, he told commissioners, “We’re depending on you to stop this. … Protect your citizens in Rowan County.”
Jeff Matthews said residents in the annexation area have no voice except through the commissioners. He urged them to exercise “any and all means to stop this un-American taxation without representation.”
Ed Conley, of Quail Circle, drew repeated applause, saying the annexation is the idea of “the same clique down there that’s running things. … All they want is our tax money. They can’t take care of their own city, they squander their own money.”
Rod Whedbee, a resident of Salisbury and chairman of the Rowan Property Rights Alliance, said the city’s attempt to take in more property to get more revenue is “a sign of poor fiscal stewardship.” He also equated annexation without a vote of the people to fascism and quoted writings of Mussolini that say government is important, not individuals.
“In Rowan County, have we become fascists, believing in the all-powerful government, or do we believe and act upon the notion of a democracy that values its citizens?” Whedbee asked.
Peggy Brown, of Glenn Heather, summed up the view expressed by many: “We’ll have to pay double taxes for services that we don’t want or need.”
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell did not attend the meeting. A teacher at East Rowan High School, he is in New York City with a class.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or email@example.com.
By Jessie Burchette