East Spencer left behind as annexation bill moves forward in legislature

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 21, 2019

SALISBURY — The N.C. House passed a bill Thursday that exempts China Grove from the 10% cap on voluntary annexation, which opens the southern Rowan County town to growth.

Senate Bill 80, though, did not include East Spencer.

The East Spencer Board of Aldermen passed a resolution May 6 asking to be considered for the same exemption. Local representatives moved to include East Spencer in the Senate bill as it went through the House. It passed its second reading with East Spencer included on May 29. 

Other municipalities in Rowan County are already exempt from the cap, including Salisbury, Landis and Spencer, as well as more than 100 municipalities statewide.

But as the bill was on its way to the third reading, which would pass it out of the House, Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said he started receiving calls and emails from local stakeholders, later identified as members of volunteer fire departments that assist East Spencer.

Warren said those stakeholders were concerned that the annexation would affect the funding they receive from taxes. The addition of land to the town limits of East Spencer could result in volunteer fire departments that cover the annexed land losing money.

The annexation is voluntary so that businesses and residents can choose to be in the town limits to benefit from municipal water and sewer service, increased police and fire protection, as well as general town services.

Officials of East Spencer were unaware their town was no longer included in the bill when contacted by the Post. Warren said he had not contacted the town but felt as if annexation did not have a sense of urgency for East Spencer. He recommended town leaders speak with the stakeholders to address their concerns. Then, legislators could alter House Bill 171, which is nearly identical to Senate Bill 80 that passed Thursday and which Warren, Reps. Larry Pittman, R-83, and Julia Howard, R-77, are the primary sponsors of.

H.B. 171 is awaiting further consideration in the Senate. 

“This is new news to me,” interim Town Administrator Phil Conrad said when asked about East Spencer not being included in the bill.

After learning the volunteer fire department had concerns about the annexation, Conrad said, “I get it from their end. They don’t want to lose their tax base.”

He said the town can pursue the bill in the next session, and he does not put blame on legislators.

“In the end, we’ll work it out,” said Sen. Carl Ford, the original author of the Senate bill.

China Grove didn’t have the same hiccups as East Spencer. Warren said the town had consulted stakeholders and they were in agreement as the town looked for the exemption as growth continues.

Before the bill, China Grove Mayor Lee Withers said, the town had to pick and choose, since it had 70 to 80 acres left for satellite annexation before it hit the 10% maximum. The town had been in talks with the Rowan Economic Development Commission and county government regarding several projects expected to come with the completion of Interstate 85 widening and Exit 68.

Now, Withers said, China Grove can look in different directions instead of focusing on one project or going to the General Assembly for permission to annex for one particular location.

“We couldn’t pick a horse and not know it wasn’t going to make it to the finish line,” Withers said.