Annexation trial: City defends plan
By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on October 21, 2004 2:02 PM
Opponents of Goldsboro's latest annexation wrapped up their case Wednesday, raising questions about fire protection, water service, debt in the city's utility fund and the amount of time they had to respond to the proposed annexation.
The city finished presenting its case today, and closing arguments were expected to be completed this afternoon. The city attempted to defend itself when it was brought up that the water rates for the annexed area would be higher than for city residents, because the city would contract with a water district.
Harrell Everett, the city's lawyer, began by saying the city stipulated that the residents in the annexed area would have to pay more for water, as outlined in the city's annexation report. Everett suggested that the court send that issue back to the City Council to address.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow said that should have been in the plan, and Everett said the city didn't know at that time that the water service would cost more.
Crow said he would make a decision on that issue later.
The Goldsboro City Council voted in April to annex the east and west sides of Salem Church Road and the north and south sides of Buck Swamp Road.
Judge Crow also asked City Manager Richard Slozak if this annexation had been put on the fast track because it was considered a desirable area. Slozak replied that it was a growth area.
"But it has a handsome tax base, doesn't it?" asked Crow.
Slozak said that any area annexed would provide an additional tax base.
Crow said he understood that, but said that he had asked about a "handsome" tax base.
Slozak acknowledged that it was a handsome tax base. "Not as attractive as a commercial area," Slozak said. "But, yes."
The judge also asked when the citizens of the area received their first communication from the city about the annexation.
Slozak said the notices were mailed out in February. The judge noted that gave the citizens about two months to gather information and formulate opinions.
Crow also noted that the city had been gathering information for almost 20 months before sending out those notices.
"Were you predisposed to annex this area?" Crow asked.
"No, sir," answered Slozak.
Jim Eldridge, the residents' lawyer, asked Slozak if he remembered a councilman saying that the city had to annex where they would "get the most bang for their buck," and Slozak said he did.
Slozak recalled that the city passed its resolution of consideration on June 3, 2002. But he didn't remember that the city also approved the voluntary annexation of the Lane-Howell Farms on the same date.
The Lane-Howell property consists of 360 acres on the east side of Salem Church Road between Stoney Hill Road and Fedelon Trail. Its annexation allowed the city to annex the area now being challenged.
Eldridge also questioned Assistant City Planner James Rowe in detail about the annexation report. Rowe acknowledged that he asked for input from city department heads regarding what additional equipment or personnel they would need to provide services to the proposed annexation area. Rowe said that he and Slozak discussed the responses from the department heads.
After that, Rowe compiled the annexation report, detailing the services the city would provide.
Rowe testified that the city would contract with the Belfast Volunteer Fire Department for services as a first-responder on fire calls, and that Goldsboro would serve as back-up.
Larry Pierce, assistant fire chief at Belfast, testified that he believed the proposed fire service was equal to what was already being provided in the area.
Pierce said that Goldsboro was already back-up for fire protection in the current mutual aid agreement between the city, county and volunteer fire departments.
Rowe said that the city would be placing 64 additional hydrants in the area, and that the fire rating would change from a 7 to a 5. "That would give them better insurance rates," he said.
Eldridge asked him what he based that knowledge on, and Rowe said that it was based on conversations with insurance companies and not from information from the State Fire Marshall's Office.
Eldridge also questioned City Finance Director Richard Durham about an Aug. 10 meeting with the managers for the Fork and Belfast water districts.
Durham said the meeting was set up once the city became aware that the water service for the annexed area would cost more for residents. He said that the two districts agreed to continue providing service to the area, agreed to the placement of the fire hydrants and agreed that the city would pay the additional cost of the water.
The agreement was not in writing, but Durham, City Engineer Terry Gallimore and Slozak testified that the city had a good working relationship with the districts. William Coltrane, manager for the Belfast water district, also said he had a good working relationship with the city and that those points had been agreed upon in the Aug. 10 meeting.
Durham said that he provided only a limited amount of information for how the city would finance the annexation. He said that most of that was provided by the city manager, who also holds the title of budget officer.
Eldridge asked Durham if the revenues and expenses relating to the annexation were included in the 2003-04 budget.
"The revenues were included," Durham said. "Expenses ... various departments requested things ... We reminded them. There are some items I could say yes."
Slozak testified that the revenues and expenses were included in the 2003-04 budget.
Durham was also questioned about the potential $1 million debt the city faced in the utility fund last May.
He said he wasn't sure he knew exactly what the shortfall was. Later Slozak testified that it was between $750,000 and $1 million, but that Walnut Creek made a $339,000 payment.
Slozak said that it wouldn't affect the city's ability to sell bonds to pay for the annexation, because the utility fund balance was good and the city had lowered its water consumption expectations for the current year.
Everett objected strenuously and continuously to the relevance of the testimony of William Burnette, a resident in the proposed annexed area.
The judge noted all his objections, but overruled all of them.
Burnette said he had spoken with a councilman and with the mayor and had read through the annexation report at the library before the public hearing. He also had prepared a detailed two-page report outlining his concerns about the proposed annexation, including the city's plans to provide services.
That report was read to the council during the April 5 public hearing, and Burnette requested that it be made a part of the official written record.
Other Local News
- Care in the sky: Members of the aeromedical evacuation crew fight to get injured troops back to their families