Group to pay attorney fees for annexation fight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
The Good Neighbors of Rowan County will pay the $8,400 in attorneys fees connected to its opposition of Salisbury’s recent annexation attempt of the N.C. 150 area.
Mark Davis, president of the Good Neighbors group, said he wanted other county taxpayers to know that the successful fight against annexation did not cost them a dime, unlike city taxpayers who had to pay more than $70,000 toward the process.
Salisbury City Council called off the annexation April 15, deciding it could not afford the $34.6 million cost of water-sewer extensions to the entire area, as purposely requested by the residents.
Earlier, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the N.C. 150 residents had each decided to hire the same Asheville law firm to challenge the annexation in the courts, anticipating it would go that far.
The Good Neighbors will pick up the whole tab for what amounted to the firm’s preliminary review of the city’s annexation report and other attorney hours spent at meetings.
Adams Hendon Carson Crow & Sanger was asked to stop its billing immediately after the April 15 decision, Davis said.
In only a few months, the Good Neighbors group raised $66,000 for its fight, and plans are to set aside $50,000 of that money and put it into an interest-bearing account.
The N.C. 150 residents generally agreed Thursday night that future city annexation attempts could come, while they also need funds to lobby the General Assembly to make significant changes in the 1959 annexation law.
Good Neighbors has joined the Fair Annexation Coalition and also is supporting StopNC-AnnexationNow.
The local group’s steering committee intends to keep raising money and anticipates at least $4,000 in expenses over the next year.
The steering committee also will continue to meet once a month, with a general membership meeting at least twice a year. A newsletter will come out quarterly, and the group intends to adopt a charter, monitor Salisbury City Council meetings, lobby the General Assembly, become involved in political campaigns and elections and make themselves visible at community events.
Davis said plans are afoot to have an anti-annexation float in Salisbury’s annual Holiday Caravan parade.
On the horizon, the group again plans to charter buses and travel to Raleigh June 4 for the fourth annual “Stop Forced Annexation Rally,” which is held on the same date at the N.C. League of Municipalities’ Town Hall Day.
A celebration of sorts came first Thursday night at the Locke Fire Department.
The residents of the N.C. 150 area, which includes eight subdivisions, thanked and recognized each other for all the hard work that went into annexation fight.
Davis said he truly believes they would have been “steamrolled” by the city if they hadn’t organized and acted.
“We got everyone involved,” he said.
Cathy Heath, whose Wake County-based StopNCAnnexationNow has been fighting involuntary annexation since 2001, said the Good Neighbors deserved kudos for its strategy to overwhelm Salisbury with the water-sewer request forms.
“That was good,” she said. “You made them pay.”
The Good Neighbors also received praise from Doug Aitken, president of the Fair Annexation Coalition of Moore County. “You are making a huge difference across the state,” he said.
The large crowd that attended Thursday’s meeting also was impressive, given that the annexation is dead for now.
“I was so happy when I drove up tonight to see everybody here,” said State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, who has been a strong opponent of involuntary annexation for years.
But the N.C. 150 residents devoted much of their meeting to talking about the next battle รณ this time, the General Assembly.
Annexation opponents received good news Wednesday when the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexations voted 10-2 to draw up legislation for the pending short session that will call for a moratorium on involuntary annexations at least until June 30, 2009.
Aitken said annexation opponents statewide should have two goals: In the short term, they should work for passage of the moratorium bill in the short session.
Second, they must work in the 2009 session to change the 1959 annexation statute.
Throughout the evening Thursday, speakers spoke of the N.C. League of Municipalities as being the biggest enemy, what Heath called the “900-pound gorilla” in their fight to change the law.
“We know the League is out there, Aitken said. “It’s something that is a fact.”
Heath said the League has boasted in the past about its ability to keep anti-annexation bills from ever getting out of House or Senate committees.
Heath, Aitken, fellow coalition member Tom Clark and Brock warned the residents that the N.C. Senate will be another formidable obstacle.
“The Senate is not very inclined to want to deal with this issue,” Heath said.
Clark said the Fair Annexation Coalition will be forming 10 two-member teams to call on five senators each, send them e-mails and let them know how many people in the state want involuntary annexations to end.
Clark encouraged Good Neighbors members to sign up and described the folders and training they will receive. Brock also stressed the importance of identifying and contacting the Senate leadership, “and I’ll give you some names.”
For many years, Heath said, annexation opponents in different counties didn’t know they were all fighting the same war. Gradually that has been changing, and a collective momentum is building, she said.
“This is a key year,” she added. “It’s a tipping point.”
Heath expressed doubts that the N.C. Association of County Commissioners would help the annexation opponents in changing the law. She recalled the first time she went to visit the county association and noticed that it shared the same receptionist and building in Raleigh with the N.C. League of Municipalities.
She said the two groups “work hand in hand.”
The regional governmental planning agencies, such as the Centralina Council of Governments, also have become tools used by cities to identify and qualify annexation areas, Heath said. Salisbury contracted with COG to write the N.C. 150 annexation report.
Rowan County commissioners are closely examining their future relationship with COG, to whom the county pays $40,000 a year.
“We’re on top of it,” said Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “Don’t worry about it.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or