Meeting will give property owners chance to speak out about annexation legislation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Local leaders and property owners who want the state annexation laws changed will have a chance to air their concerns on Jan. 6 in Raleigh.
Local members of the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Municipal Annexation are encouraged that meaningful changes will be made during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
Rep. Fred Steen, Republican from Landis, and County Commissioner Tina Hall of Mount Ulla are two of the 24 members on the state panel. Both are seeking major changes in the 50-year-old state annexation laws.
Steen said this weekend that he and some other members of the panel will likely seek a moratorium on forced annexation once the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 28.
Earlier this year, the N.C. House passed a moratorium bill, but it died in the Senate.
Steen said if everybody on the Joint Commission is able to reach an agreement, it will still take weeks or months for the bill to move through committees in the House and Senate. “We need to get back to a moratorium,” Steen said.
Steen cited what he views as several positive developments:
– The N.C. League of Municipalities has agreed that the time frame for providing services must be improved.
Steen noted that Rep. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte has suggested the state pull the charters of any municipality that doesn’t follow the exact letter of the law in providing services.
Currently there is no remedy available at the state level.
– While the N.C. Association of County Commissioners doesn’t go as far as opponents of forced annexation would like, the Association has endorsed goals including requiring cities to reimburse counties for the loss of sales tax due to annexation. The Association also wants the degree of urbanization to be required for annexation and a referendum for involuntary annexation where public services are already in place.
Steen and Hall have called the State Association position weak. They favor a vote of residents on any involuntary annexation and a method to prevent the county from losing sales tax dollars.
Steen said in some cases annexation is a plus for the town and the adjacent property owners. But in other cases, Steen said the annexation is nothing more than a grab for revenue and a chance to fatten the census figures to get more revenue.
“We need to remove the incentive motive for annexation and make municipalities provide new services, not existing services,” he said.
During the state panel’s meeting earlier this month, Hall proposed that only areas where there is a clear need for municipal services be annexed. She added that when a municipality decides to annex, it should assume the cost of providing new water, sewer lines and connections.
“Citizens should not be forced to pay for services that they have not requested.”
Hall also cited the loss of sales tax, pointing out counties must continue to provide essential services such as schools, public health, social services, courts and jails.
If annexations continue to take tax dollars away from counties, Hall said, counties will need to replace revenue lost to annexations or face the need to either raise the tax rate or cut important services they are obligated to provide.
“It is important to remember that counties do not have the inherent authority to expand their territories to take in new residents and land together with the accompanying tax base,” Hall told the Commission.
Steen praised the Good Neighbors of Rowan County, the N.C. 150 West group that organized to defeat the planned Salisbury annexation and continues to push for changes in the state law.
“That is the best organized citizen group I’ve seen in five years in Raleigh,” Steen said. “They handle themselves very well, and are very organized. They’ve gotten the attention of everybody in Raleigh.”
Steen said the annexation issue is drawing more attention as the economy continues to sour. “People don’t need to pay double taxes the way things are.”
Steen, Hall and other members of the committee expect to hold meetings next week to work on draft proposals. They are researching annexation laws in other states.
The Joint Commission will allow public comment at its meeting on Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, 16 West Jones St. , Raleigh.
Speakers will be limited to two minutes each. A total of 45 minutes has been set aside for public comment. Steen said that might be expanded.
Citizens concerned about annexation laws can also e-mail members of the Commission. Co-chairs of the Commission are Sen. Vernon Malone, Sen. R.C. Soles, Rep. D. Bruce Goforth and Rep. Paul Luebke.