Annexation attempt cost Salisbury nearly $72,000

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury’s annexation attempt of the N.C. 150 area west of the city limits cost almost $72,000 before it was called off by the City Council.
City Manager David Treme included the cost figures in information he delivered to Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides this week.
Sides had asked the city for several pieces of annexation-related information:
– A copy of the comments made by Councilman Mark Lewis before the vote April 15 to discontinue the annexation.
– A copy of a revised annexation report “reflecting the newest calculations of cost vs. benefit which resulted in the cancellation” of the annexation.
– A copy of all e-mails and written communications between city staff and the City Council for the week leading up to the council’s decision April 15.
– A DVD of the April 15 council meeting.
Treme provided all the requested items or answers to them.
In an affidavit dated Monday, Treme says he will not prepare a final annexation report because the council voted to discontinue the annexation process.
The e-mails Sides received show that Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz had written Treme on the Saturday afternoon before the April 15 meeting and asked whether Treme could have a final annexation report submitted to the council by that meeting.
“I subsequently called Mayor Kluttz and informed her that it would be impossible to have the final report completed by that time,” Treme said in the affidavit, “but I should be in a position to give City Council my preliminary conclusions on whether the Highway 150 annexation would be financially feasible with respect to the water and sewer extension plan.”
Out of necessity, Treme said, he had to wait until all the water-sewer survey forms were delivered to City Hall by 5 p.m. April 14.
The city received 659 water and sewer requests, and several hundred were received just prior to the deadline, Treme said.
“Given the random distribution of the water and sewer requests, it was apparent that the utility would have to provide full water and sewer service to the Highway 150 annexation area at an estimated cost of $34,600,000,” Treme said.
“Given the likelihood that only 15 to 20 percent of the total residents would actually hook on the water and sewer system, no further analysis was necessary to determine that the extension of water and sewer service to the Highway 150 area was not economically feasible.”
Residents in the area purposely inundated City Hall with the water-sewer request forms hoping that the city would find it too expensive to deliver utility services to the annexation area. The strategy worked.
City officials were caught by an existing policy that does not require residents to hook on to water and sewer services even if they are available. The survey was just that ó a survey ó and would not have been binding after the city installed the $34 million worth of infrastructure.
“The city’s response to this tactic will be to re-examine our water and sewer extension policies,” Treme said.
Sides said Wednesday morning he was still in the process of reading and digesting all the materials he received from the city, and he hoped to fashion a written response later.
At first glance, he said, the city’s annexation costs looked to be a lot more than it probably anticipated. Sides said he suspected they were actually much higher and said he was disturbed that all the staff and council man-hours devoted to the annexation were not figured in.
“The city does not track staff time for any specific project,” Treme said.
Treme listed the following annexation costs: $16,400 for a contract with the Centralina Council of Governments for a qualification study; $47,800 for a survey of the annexation area by Shulenburger Surveying; $778.06 for the first-class mail notifications to property owners; $69.94 for return receipt mail notifications to waste haulers; $4,316.56 for two full-page ads in the Post; and $2,461.25 for legal expenses.
Sides said he also was troubled by Treme’s statement that the city will re-examine its utility extension policies. Sides reads into this that the city will change its ordinances and require mandatory hookups to water and sewer in future annexation attempts, even if a property owner’s well and septic tank are OK.
“It will be a forced policy, and it will strengthen the term ‘forced annexation,’ ” Sides said.
Sides said he personally doesn’t think the state’s 1959 involuntary annexation laws are going away, but he said the formulas for qualifying land for annexation need to change. In the city’s annexation attempt, he noted, the city found a way to jump over 450 acres to make another area contiguous and then expanded the annexation area so it would be able to qualify.
He said involuntary annexation also should involve a vote of both the people to be annexed and the citizens of the city whose tax dollars would be used to bring in an area involuntarily.
If annexation were such a great idea, Sides said, “Convince me, and I’ll vote for it, and every other citizen would say the same thing.”
In his affidavit, Treme said in reviewing the preliminary report he had determined that the N.C. 150 annexation area met the statutory qualifications for annexation. An initial financial analysis also showed that it would start providing an estimated 18 percent return beginning the first quarter of the fifth year, he said.
“The only question remaining was the feasibility of extending water and sewer utilities to the various neighborhoods in the proposed Highway 150 annexation area,” Treme added
He noted that unlike other cities, Salisbury does not have a mandatory waster-sewer hookup policy.
“This allows residents with satisfactory wells and septic tanks to avoid unnecessary costs,” he said. “Water and sewer trunk lines were planned along the 150 corridor in close proximity to existing neighborhoods to make it easier and less costly to serve residents in the future in the event of environmental issues, drought or well and septic tank failure.”
The surveys were meant to determine property owners who both wanted and needed the service, and the city planned to design a water and sewer service plan for the area based on that information.
“Again,” Treme said, “this approach is different from other cities who require citizens to hook onto water and sewer when it becomes available, irrespective of the condition of their well or septic tank.”
The city’s preliminary annexation report had put the costs of extending major water and sewer trunk lines to the area at $4.4 million and anticipated few of the residents asking for utility service.
Meanwhile, Sides continues to fight the city over the loss of six small trees on his business property that he says a city-contracted surveying crew destroyed while laying out a proposed I-85 sewer outfall line.
Sides said the city had a chance to settle it and would not. He lost his civil complaint at a magistrate judge’s level and appealed to Civil District Court.
Judge Beth Dixon dismissed the case with prejudice in March when the city filed a motion saying the case should be heard in Superior Court. Sides will continue to fight it.
“It’s going to court one way or the other,” he said. “It will take a jury to tell me I’m wrong and the city is right.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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