05/08/05 — Annexation battle is not over

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Annexation battle is not over

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on May 8, 2005 2:09 AM

A group fighting annexation by the city of Goldsboro says its battle isn't over, even after a legal victory last month.

"There are other issues still left unresolved that will need to be addressed by the court," said Bill Burnette, leader of Good Neighbors United, which is opposed to the proposed annexation of land along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads.

Last month, a Superior Court judge ruled the city had not properly followed the law in putting together its annexation plan. City officials were told that if they wanted to continue to pursue the annexation, they would have to go back to the drawing board, submit a new study of the area, hold another public hearing and put the matter to another council vote.

The council approved the annexation a year ago but opponents sued and the case went to court in the fall. The court found the city had not properly prepared its water service plan and city officials were ordered to re-do the proposal.

Residents of the area considered for annexation said that their water service was provided by local sanitary districts at a higher rate than city residents pay. City officials agreed that the cost of adjusting the rates should have been included in the report.

Burnette said that even if the report is amended, residents of the area proposed for annexation will continue to fight annexation.

He questioned whether the annexation was in the best interest of the city.

The judge in the case also told city officials that any resident of Goldsboro can speak at the public hearing on the annexation proposal. Previously, only people living in the proposed annexation area could speak. Current city residents should be asking members of the city council what the true benefits of annexation would be, Burnette said.

Burnette said the rationale for annexation continues to mystify him.

"The city says it needs to grow, or it will die," Burnette said. "But no one can explain the substance of that statement."

If the city needs room to expand, he asked, why are there some streets unpaved and some city residents without sewer service.

"If I was a resident of Goldsboro, I would be asking them to get our own house in order before we decide to make it bigger," Burnette said.

He also wondered about the exact status of the city's financial situation.

"The city has to sell bonds to finance the proposed annexation," he said. "Right now, part of the proposed five-cent tax increase is to pay off a bond debt for the city hall expansion. At some point, taxes will have to be raised to pay for this annexation, if it's approved."

Burnette said that spending all of that money was hard for him to comprehend for a city that said it must raise taxes.

"Yet, a few months, the previous city manager gave what I thought was a glowing report of the city's fiscal health," Burnette said. "This raises more questions."

He is referring to a financial analysis, presented in January to the City Council by former City Manager Richard Slozak.

Slozak told the board that the city was in great financial shape, and that revenues in the general fund were almost $1 million more than projected.

But the city's proposed budget for next year, presented to the council earlier this week, calls for a 15 percent sewer rate increase and a five-cent tax increase.

The numbers, Burnette says, just don't add up, and neither do the city's reasons for annexation.

He believes that the seeds for this annexation were sown before most of the current council members were elected, and he doesn't think they have all the facts.

"Most of them do not have a feel for just how far we are removed from the city," he said. "I just don't believe they have a feel for the situation."

Another factor that could help annexation is legislation pending in the General Assembly that would require a public vote to make annexation legal. Currently, the city council has to listen to comments but makes the decision themselves. Most states require a public vote.

There are bills before the Senate and House now that would require a vote of the people in the affected area

Burnette feels that it's time the annexation laws are changed.

"Truthfully, the laws as currently written are a deterrent to quality growth of cities," he said. "Because there's no incentive to make city life better than rural if you can have forced annexation."

Burnette says that he hopes that the city council will reconsider this annexation.

"It's time to take off those ego hats and do the right thing," he said. "What's wrong with the city saying that they have looked at the situation and decided that annexation initiatives for northwest Goldsboro is not in the best interests of all concerned and are going to table the issue until a more opportune time."