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Annexation fight shifts to Raleigh

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
The day after they made their case locally, Salisbury annexation opponents loaded onto buses or traveled by private cars Wednesday to Raleigh for a legislative committee hearing on the same subject.
Almost 100 people boarded two chartered buses at the Holiday Inn early Wednesday afternoon, and many planned to speak later in the day before the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation.
Their focus Wednesday shifted from Salisbury’s proposed annexation of the mostly residential area along N.C. 150 to the state annexation law that allows cities to bring areas into their limits without a vote from the affected property owners.
Numerous people on the buses were retirees, but others said they had to take a half day’s vacation from their jobs to make the Raleigh trip.
The participants said the large numbers going to the hearing and their message were equally as important.
Larry Wright, who attended a similar public hearing that the House Select Committee held in Asheville a couple of weeks ago, said the Salisbury group would not be alone. Forced annexation opponents from cities such as Wilmington, Lexington and Asheville also would be in Raleigh, he said.
“I really expect there’s going to be 400 or 500 people there,” said Wright, who lives in Neel Estates.
The message Wednesday evening would be geared toward the General Assembly and changing the law, he added.
On Tuesday, hundreds of annexation opponents ó mostly from eight subdivisions along N.C. 150 ó attended the official public hearing on Salisbury’s proposed annexation, which would take in an estimated 1,699 people.
Ninety-one people went to the City Hall podium and spoke before the Salisbury City Council at the four-and-a-half-hour hearing.
The people waiting for the buses Wednesday at the Holiday Inn said they thought the Tuesday hearing went well. “They (council members) seemed to be listening,” Dink Safrit, of Neel Estates, said.
“I was very pleased, pleased that it didn’t get nasty,” Carl Eagle said. “And I think we made our point.”
The opponents’ main point ó and one they planned to repeat in Raleigh ó is that forced annexation is taxation without representation.
They’re not allowed to vote on something that, if approved by the City Council, would tax their properties, nor did they ever have a chance to vote for or against the City Council members who would be taxing them.
North Carolina’s 1959 annexation law has been touted by supporters as an important tool for orderly growth in the state. The statutory policy directs that as areas become urban in character they should become municipal and receive urban-level services.
Proponents have long argued that the wise and fair use of annexation statutes has kept cities and towns in the state strong and that the law sets out tough criteria for qualifying areas for involuntary annexation, followed by timetables and deadlines to receive city services.
Courts also provide remedies for people who contend that their areas don’t qualify or the proper procedures haven’t been followed, municipal officials argue.
But opponents in Salisbury and elsewhere contend that North Carolina is one of the few states allowing involuntary annexation and that it is simply a bad, un-Democratic, even immoral and unethical law.
Rod Whedbee, who lives in Salisbury and belongs to the Rowan Property Rights Alliance, said every past law that has been immoral has been reversed.
He said it is sad that North Carolina often has been among the last states to change immoral laws, including slavery. North Carolina is one of six states allowing involuntary annexations.
The real purpose of government should be to protect the rights of citizens, Whedbee added. He said if one person on fixed income loses his or her house because of annexation and the increased tax burden, “to me, it’s on the heads of council.”
In Salisbury, Jim Smith said, the only people he has seen in support of the annexation law have included the visiting mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C. League of Municipalities officials, city staff and the council members.
“Where’s the common citizen for it?” he asked.
The annexation opponents paid $26 each to ride the buses in a trip organized by Good Neighbors of Rowan County.
Joyce Curl, who took a half day off from work, said she’s fighting the annexation for her sons and her neighbors. Her sons will inherit her property someday, and they should not be burdened with the city taxes, Curl said.
Also, her son Travis’ Reserve unit was recently deployed for another year to Southeast Asia. If he’s fighting for his country there, Curl said, she should be fighting for him here.
State Rep. Fred Steen, R-Rowan, is a member of the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation, which is co-chaired by Democratic Reps. Bruce Goforth, of Buncombe County, and Paul Luebke, of Durham.
Steen said the 10-member committee has held a similar public hearing in Asheville, heard examples of what other states are doing and traced the history of annexation in North Carolina.
Before 1959, people would petition a city for annexation, then a vote would be held among the people to be annexed. Steen said one has to remember that the 1959 law was passed in a time when municipal taxes were much lower ó in many cases similar to what people pay today in a fire tax.
Municipal taxes are higher now and part of the reason behind the outcry from opponents, “and rightfully so,” Steen said.
The House committee was charged to do its work through the end of the year and is not supposed to meet during the upcoming short session, which begins May 13.
Steen doesn’t expect it will recommend any wholesale changes in the law for now, but he does see strong support for a moratorium on annexation while study and discussions continue.
“We need more time,” Steen said. “Until then, we need a moratorium to catch our breath.”
Rowan County commissioners have asked the local legislative delegation to introduce a local bill for an annexation moratorium in Rowan. Steen supports that move, and he said Wednesday other counties are likewise interested.
Steen personally thinks residents of a city and a proposed area should vote on an annexation. As a former mayor of Landis, Steen participated in two forced annexations. He said he tried to take a practical approach.
“I would not want to annex 1,600 people who are that unhappy with the city,” Steen said, referring to Salisbury’s proposal.
His town also had bond referendums associated with the annexations in which city residents at least had a say, Steen noted. Those annexations also had some strong support, and utility services already had been extended to some of the areas, he said.
The large numbers at Wednesday’s hearing in Raleigh will have an impact, Steen predicted.
“I think it shows there is definitely an interest out there,” he said.
At Wednesday’s hearing in Raleigh, which began at 5 p.m., Larry Wright told the committee, “the current annexation law was passed in 1959, and we are not blaming you for that bad law.
“We are asking you to be part of the solution by making a recommendation that we go back to the good law that allows a vote only by those being annexed.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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