04/06/05 — Commissioners want more facts on annexation before supporting local legislation request

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Commissioners want more facts on annexation before supporting local legislation request

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 6, 2005 1:47 PM

Wayne County Commission-ers said Tuesday that they want more information before agreeing to support legislation that would give residents a vote in the municipal annexation process.

After hearing from people who live in an area being considered for annexation by the city of Goldsboro, the commissioners asked County Manager Lee Smith to get them more data about the city's plans and state law governing annexation.

Residents of an area northwest of Goldsboro have been fighting the city's attempts to bring them into the city limits. North Carolina law allows a municipality to annex nearby land if certain criteria regarding population and development are met. People in the affected area are allowed to express their opinion at a public hearing but they have no say in the decision.

Legislation introduced in the General Assembly would give them the right to vote on the proposed annexation.

Bill Burnette, a spokesman for Good Neighbors United, a group comprised of residents of the proposed annexation area, explained the city's annexation plan to the commissioners and described the legislative effort to change state annexation laws.

About 30 members of the group attended the commissioners' meeting.

The annexation case centers around the city's decision to annex land on the east and west sides of Salem Church Road, and the north and south sides of Buck Swamp Road. Residents sued. In January, a Superior Court judge decided that the city needed to amend its annexation report, and give notice for a new informational meeting and public hearing on the issue. Lawyers for both sides are still working out the details of that decision.

Burnette said he did not appear before the commissioners to criticize the city council but to inform commissioners about the effect the annexation would have on the county. He said the proposal "needs to be looked at in total."

Burnette said that annexation has always been seen as a natural evolution of city growth, but that this attempt to annex was not prompted by natural growth. He gave commissioners a map of the area to be annexed and also a copy of the group's concerns with the plan.

Burnette pointed to what he called "white space"on the map, which showed areas closer to the city that were not in the city limits.

He said that the area to the north became contiguous to the city limits after a voluntary annexation of 358 acres nearby.

"There were no homes on that 358 acres," Burnette said.

He described driving from the existing city limits to the area being considered for annexation as riding through "the Gobi desert."

"It bothers me that I drive that far and the city's coming out there," Burnette said.

He also said that the city isn't offering the area any services that the residents don't already have. Water rates would increase, he said, and the city has said it does not plan to hire more police officers because of the annexation. Fire protection would still be provided by the Belfast Volunteer Fire department, Burnette pointed out. The city would contract with the department to provide the service.

"North Carolina is one of only five states that do not permit the citizens to have a vote in the annexation process," Burnette told the commissioners. "There are those who say these statutes are in violation of our basic Constitution because we did not vote for those who are deciding where we should live and the application of taxes."

He asked the commissioners to support two bills under review in the legislature that would allow citizens the opportunity to have a vote in the annexation procedure.

Burnette said that Goldsboro's attempt to annex the northwest part of the county is not about progress nor what is best for the people in the county or the city.

"If we were citizens of Goldsboro, we would be incensed that the city is incurring more debt to extend current boundaries, when funds are stretched thin or non-existent to cover services within existing boundaries," Burnette added.

He also asked the commissioners to invite members of the City Council to discuss the issue.

"Have them provide convincing rationale that supports this involuntary action," Burnette said. "To date, that has not occurred."

Two city residents, Lonnie Casey Jr. and Neal Jurney, also spoke against Goldsboro's efforts to annex the northwestern part of the county.

"The city does need to grow," Jurney said, "but it should happen in the inner-city."

He urged the commissioners to draft a resolution in support of the annexation legislation.

Casey also said that the commissioners need to help the residents because "The city doesn't listen to anyone."

J.D. Evans, the chairman of the board of commissioners, said they would consider the group's viewpoint.

"We need to look at this information in more depth, and have an opportunity to peruse it further," Evans said.

During a briefing before the meeting, Commissioner Jack Best cautioned fellow commissioners about passing a resolution regarding the city's annexation attempts.

"I think if you say anything, it will be in direct conflict with the city board," Best said. "They've made a decision based on the law."

County Attorney Borden Parker said that the commissioners have the right to support, or not support, any pending state legislation.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said that he doesn't think the commissioners should take a position on this particular annexation, but he that he does believe that there are issues about annexation in general that the commissioners should discuss.

"We've known about the annexation issues for months," said Commissioner Efton Sager. "North Carolina is one of five states that don't allow the citizens to vote and I don't think that's fair. We're not getting into the city's business by discussing annexation."