Growth throughout county an ongoing negotiation

Published 12:07 am Thursday, November 24, 2022

As growth in Rowan County has exploded in the last year or so, communities have sometimes struggled to determine who is entitled to what property.

Of the 10 towns in the county, nine have what is called Extra Territorial Jurisdictions or ETJs (not to be confused with ET the extraterrestrial). ETJs extend approximately 1 mile outside the municipal limits, but sometimes those 1 mile radius’ cross with the radius of other towns. In addition, there is a three-mile buffer extending out from each town beyond the existing corporate limits in which towns can have “satellite annexations.”

As developments continue to crop up across the area, there have already been some negotiations, some tense, between towns about which one will get to annex the development, adding it to the town’s tax rolls.

If a development wants to take advantage of water and sewer provided by Salisbury Rowan Utilities (SRU), then the developer is asked to agree to voluntary annexation, but it is not automatically Salisbury that will get the annexation.

“Whichever ETJ the development is in usually means that town has the right of first refusal,” said Ed Muire, planning and development director for Rowan County. “SRU is the utility provider, but they are also essentially an arm of the city, which can be a bit of a conundrum, but there are negotiations between Salisbury and other communities who want to annex the development themselves but who still need SRU services.”

Recently, to try to help towns understand what areas are within negotiation range, the county drew lines on the map indicating where towns and their ETJs and buffers meet.
“But it was a King Solomon kind of line,” said Muire. “Kind of like splitting the baby, because we didn’t follow roads or anything. Instead, the lines are a product of our GIS modeling of the closest approximation of the borders.
The issue is currently on the table for both East Spencer and Spencer, and Salisbury, Granite Quarry and Faith. In both cases, the towns are working on determining where the lines the county has drawn will actually be.
East Spencer Town Manager Michael Douglas said he and Spencer’s Mayor, Jonathan Williams, and Planning Director Steve Blount have been discussing massaging the map to satisfy both towns. There are already some developments that are completed that are on the wrong side of the line right now. One that is in Spencer but technically is in East Spencer’s ETJ, and vice versa. And the towns are working to figure out the fairest give and take acceptable to both sides.
Salisbury is in the same situation with Granite Quarry and Faith.
“Salisbury has enacted a moratorium on annexations that will expire at the end of the year in order to have meetings and discussions to try to work through some of these concerns,” said Muire. “The county’s role, meanwhile, is essentially to ensure equity as much as possible. The goal of course is to be fair. But that is difficult to do, and requires some give and take.” He noted that the idea that developers are voluntarily agreeing to annexation is a bit of a misnomer, since in order to receive water and sewer services, they have to agree to be annexed. He also pointed out that the county does have some skin in the game because when a town annexes a development, the county loses the tax dollars that go toward supporting volunteer fire services, which are clearly essential.
“The growth is a good thing, but we are having to consider things that we’ve never needed to before,” he said. “As we go along, I am sure we are going to have additional zoning considerations to look at that are new for all of us. As long as we continue to address them, I think we’ll do OK.”