Annexation changes closer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

RALEIGH (AP) ó Changes to rules governing forced annexations by North Carolina towns and cities ó long-awaited by local citizen groups organized after feeling stung by the current law ó moved closer to passage Tuesday after the state Senate gave it tentative approval.
The Senate Finance Committee approved an amended House measure that gives landowners more power to block future incorporations by municipalities or more potential benefits if an involuntary annexation occurs. The full Senate followed with its initial OK by a vote of 38-9.
The bill, which could reach the Senate floor later Tuesday, would overhaul the 1959 law governing involuntary annexations. Senate leader Phil Berger has said passing the legislation was a priority before the Legislature adjourned its regular annual session by this weekend.
ěThis is a well negotiated-out agreement that hopefully will do this state well for a number of years and appropriately protect the rights of landowners in North Carolina,î said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, one of the billís chief sponsors.
The biggest change would let property owners block an involuntary annexation if 60 percent of them sign a petition to oppose the action in a roughly four-month period. If enough owners do oppose it, the town or city would be barred from seeking an involuntary annexation again in the area for three years. Currently, landowners in the area being annexed have little recourse except to go to court.
ěThis is a lot better than what it was. We have equal input,î said Kenneth Sorensen, who lives in a subdivision outside of Cary. He said the town has wanted to acquire it for years.
Landowners in a municipalityís targeted area also could receive water and sewer service hookups all the way to their homes installed for free if enough people request it within about three months of a cityís decision to move ahead with the annexation. Citizens have often complained that cities forced them to pay thousands of dollars for connections when water and sewer mains are built.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities hasnít actively opposed the bill but said the changes would reverse laws that have served the state well for a half-century and ensure that cities grow at a manageable rate. League lobbyist Kelli Kukura has said the measure was only slightly better than the alternative presented by lawmakers ó a statewide moratorium on involuntary annexations.
Kukura told the committee she hopes the changes ědonít lead to significant urban decay and a lower quality of life for our citizens.î
The bill also makes it easier for people in low-income areas to be brought into municipalities and receive services.
Later Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee agreed to a separate bill that would allow residents in several areas where forced annexations have been contested to use the petition process to stop the actions if 60 percent of landowners agree.
The areas include acreage being acquired by Kinston, Lexington, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Asheville, Marvin, Southport and Ayden. Many of the annexations are in litigation. A ninth annexation, already completed by Goldsboro, also could be repealed.
ěWeíre just thrilled,î said Betty Gunther, who lives in the Oak Level community of Nash County, which would be able to attempt to challenge the Rocky Mount annexation of their area.
The measure passed even after senators and the State Treasurerís Office expressed concern about the Goldsboro provision because they said the city already has borrowed more than $8 million toward paying for infrastructure for the new residents. More than $3 million of the borrowed money has been spent.
, Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman said.
One senator said repealing the debt could affect the credit rating of Goldsboro and other North Carolina cities: ěWe are playing with fire,î said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg. But several senators had little sympathy about the debt payback by Goldsboro, saying its annexation was egregious and one of the reasons the broader annexation changes were moving forward.
ěIf they have to eat it, they have to eat it,î said Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston.
The Associated Press
06/14/11 23:07