Details could mean you win, lose or draw
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By Mark Wineka
Salisbury annexed Baja Products in 2006, and Bruce Kolkebeck says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We were looking forward to being in the city,” says Kolkebeck, who oversees operations at the hot tub spa plant.
The Baja building in Salisbury dates back to 1968. The septic system is old and, on particularly wet days, backs up and causes problems. Kolkebeck often has to get someone to pump out the septic tank, and he wants to hook up to city sewer.
But it may not be that easy and illustrates for Kolkebeck how confusing the annexation law is when it comes to water-sewer extensions and what a city is obligated or not obligated to do.
“They’re counting on people to really not understand what the law says,” Kolkebeck says.
The city of Salisbury recently announced its plans to annex a large area, mostly along N.C. 150, that includes seven residential subdivisions and a portion of the Rowan County Airport. It would take in an estimated 1,699 people and 2,075 acres.
Residents in those subdivisions are organizing to fight the annexation, and they have an ally in the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which agreed last week to hire an Asheville law firm to mount a legal challenge.
Kolkebeck’s home, located in the Summerfield subdivision, happens to be in the identified annexation area.
As always, the potential future Salisbury residents have questions about what city services they would receive. In particular, they’re asking when, how and if they’ll be getting city water and sewer.
Is it mandatory to be a city water-sewer customer, even if they have a good well and septic tank?
And what exactly is Salisbury required to install to meet its statutory requirements?
Kolkebeck learned, for example, that the city doesn’t plan to run sewer in front of Baja Products. Rather, he is supposed to connect to the sewer main at the far western edge of his site almost 500 feet away.
On his property, he would be responsible for running the line that considerable distance to the city main ó a cost he estimates at $10,000.
Kolkebeck might have some negotiating room. The city’s new sewer line for the 2006 annexation requires an easement through the Baja Products property in the back.
“I don’t know if I win, lose or draw on any of this,” Kolkebeck says.
Down the hill from Baja’s front entrance, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities has staked out where the new sewer line will pick up on an existing sewer main just across Airport Road.
Kolkebeck questions whether the city can meet the annexation law’s requirements and have this main sewer trunk line serving Airport Road and U.S. 29 South installed by the two-year deadline, which will be June 30.
Kolkebeck also notes that his company failed to request sewer service when it should have in 2006.
While annexation-related paperwork was sent to company headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., Baja Products missed the five-day window after an April 4, 2006, public hearing during which the request for utility service was supposed to be submitted on a form available at the city clerk’s office.
People to be annexed this year face the same five-day window (actually, because of a weekend, it will be extended to April 14 or 15) after an April 8 public hearing.
“There are decisions you have to make, and they don’t give you a whole lot of time,” Kolkebeck says.
The state’s annexation statute says the following for involuntary annexations: that an annexing municipality must “provide for extension of major trunk water mains and sewer outfall lines into the area to be annexed so that when such lines are constructed, property owners in the area to be annexed will be able to secure public water and sewer service, according to the policies in effect in such municipality for extending water and sewer lines to individual lots or subdivisions.”
Note the emphasis on “major” trunk water and sewer lines.
Construction of major water-sewer infrastructure must be completed within two years of the effective date of the annexation.
Salisbury initially has laid out a plan that provides for the major water-sewer trunk lines to be installed no matter what. In the proposed annexation, the city says it will install 11,000 feet of water main along N.C. 150 and down Neel Road.
Sewer outfall lines would cut across the back of the Windmill Ridge and Hidden Hut subdivisions and make a line through Neel Estates. Some 14,000 linear feet of sewer outfall would be installed.
Then, based on the requests it receives after the public hearing, Salisbury will design a service plan to reach those particular property owners with water and/or sewer, City Manager David Treme says.
“We would just have to look at where the response came from and where they are,” he adds.
The gray area comes in when only one property owner on a street or in a whole subdivision requests water-sewer service. Could the city serve those property owners “according to the financial policies in effect” and get the service to them in two years?
“It’s a complicated scenario for the city,” says Joe Morris, planning and community development manager for Salisbury. “We don’t have a mandatory hook-up requirement. It’s conceivable that residents could request the service, then refuse it.
“That’s a question I don’t think can be answered until all applications are in place.”
The city probably would offer one-time connection incentives to make running certain lines more feasible.
If the installation of a sewer line is not economically feasible due to the unique topography of an area, the annexation law says, a city has to provide a property owner with septic system maintenance and repair service until sewer can be installed.
The annexation law also allows property owners to petition the Local Government Commission for an abatement of property taxes paid to the city if the extension of water-sewer is not completed by the end of two years.
For now, city officials are assuming that most people in the proposed annexation area won’t want city water-sewer.
But if everyone happened to request the city utilities, the revenues from hundreds of new customers probably would cover the extra costs of extending street and subdivision lines, Treme says.
Jeff Jones, planning and research manager for Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, agrees it would not be “an automatic kill.”
“To have that many new customers would be great,” he says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.