Council member hopes to improve annexation process, lambastes county commissioners

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury City Councilman Mark Lewis said there were a lot of things he has wanted to say during the annexation process but until Tuesday the time wasn’t right.
As council was on the verge Tuesday of a vote to abandon the annexation of the N.C. 150 area, Lewis took time to read from a four-and-a-half page, single-spaced, typewritten statement.
When he was finished, the small gathering of annexation opponents in the Council Chambers at City Hall applauded his remarks.
“Let me tell you this,” Lewis said. “In my five years of serving the citizens of Salisbury, this decision has weighed heavier on my soul than any other.”
In the end, Lewis said the annexation process had left “some bruised feelings.”
“We are all still members of the same greater community and I, for one, think we need to forgive each other for any statements, threats or accusations made in the heat of the moment.
“Whatever we might have said to one another, I know that we are all good people here in Rowan County, and I am proud to be your neighbor.”
In his talk, Lewis laid out what he saw as the “truths” for citizens in the annexation area and the viewpoints taken by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners ó another strong opponent of the annexation ó and the city of Salisbury.
He also touched on the principles behind involuntary annexation, Salisbury’s process and how this particular annexation came up short.
At one point, he had harsh words for commissioners.
Lewis said he saw other things that needed to take place, in addition to some forgiveness:
– The city’s annexation process needs more input from its elected officials “early in the game to determine any potential annexation areas, and we need to amend the process to allow for increased citizen dialogue.”
– The Good Neighbors of Rowan County (the opponents to the N.C. 150 annexation), Rowan County commissioners and local legislators need to give input to the General Assembly as it evaluates the annexation law for potential changes in urban density and contiguous threshold requirements.
– City and county leaders need to work together for the benefit of the community.
Lewis said there were a number of factors that gave him pause to vote “yes” for the N.C. 150 annexation and, in the end, he could not support it.
The final report showed the cost of the annexation to be prohibitive for the near future and would require the city to use existing citizens’ tax dollars, he said.
He also objected to the use of the annexation law’s Subsection D to qualify 429 acres of the annexation area and making it a bridge to most of the residential subdivisions along N.C. 150.
It violates the principle of small, systematic annexations the city has done in the recent past, Lewis said.
“If we have to use so large a land bridge, then maybe this isn’t the time to annex this area,” he said.
If that N.C. 150 corridor between Jake Alexander Boulevard and the residential subdivisions doesn’t meet the urban density test, Lewis said, “then these subdivisions are not in the way of progress, and quite frankly until that time occurs, I don’t see me voting for annexing these neighborhoods.”
Lewis said he recognized that citizens in the proposed annexation felt that the annexation was “a done deal.”
“And who could blame them, based on the results of at least the last four years of annexation,” he added.
He defended the city’s process as being transparent and mindful of the state law. But he said it doesn’t afford enough room for public dialogue.
Lewis said last week’s public hearing had many meaningful comments. As for the current annexation process, “I will agree that it is neither friendly nor respectful of the people in the proposed annexation area,” Lewis said.
He suggested reforms involving more council input and better communication.
Lewis said the commissioners’ adverse reaction to the annexation had some merit in that they would be forced to work with the city on economic development plans related to the airport and would lose roughly $240,000 in sales tax revenue.
But Lewis said he and others questioned the commissioners’ use of tax dollars to stop the annexation. It was the use of his tax dollars and others to file a potential suit against 20 percent of their own citizens, Lewis said.
“I will tell you that this particular part of this whole issue has been the most distasteful,” Lewis said. “I am tired of battling the commission at every turn just because we don’t share the same vision on a particular issue.
“The urban-rural divide will oftentimes clash on various subjects. … But to even suggest that all city-county cooperation will be over should this annexation occur is just petty and below the standards our citizens expect of their elected representatives.”The entire text of Lewis’ remarks will appear later in the Post and/or on its Web site.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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