06/26/05 — Property owners would pay, then save

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Property owners would pay, then save

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 26, 2005 2:00 AM

A simple decision -- stop or grow -- goes back before the Goldsboro City Council Tuesday night.

Should the city stop the annexation process, in the works for more than four years and in the courts for the last year?

Or should the City Council vote again to push the city limits to the north, bringing hundreds of homes into Goldsboro?

Before the council decides, it will hear what its prospective citizens and current town residents have to say. A public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at Herman Park Center, 901 E. Ash St.

The City Council needed a bigger venue than City Hall because the last time it held a hearing on the annexation -- in April 2004 -- more than 300 people packed the council's chambers, two other rooms, in the hallway and down the stairs. Nearly 40 people spoke.

Opponents hope to pack the center as well with people wearing red.

"Hopefully, we'll have as many people as we had last time," said Bill Burnette, a spokesman for the neighbors. "But we need the city residents to come, too. ...

"The City Council thinks of us as being rabble-rousers and anti-city, but I think they'll listen to the current citizens. They can stand up and say, 'We voted for you and we think this is wrong.'"

City officials say they are open to new arguments, but they will have to be convinced not to repeat the annexation decision.

"If we hear the same things that we heard last year, there will be no need for us to change our vote," Mayor Al King said Friday. "I'll be listening for something different, maybe something I heard but didn't fully consider."

Most, if not all, of the City Council members will approach the hearing with open minds, King added. "I think everyone is waiting to hear what's presented."

The council typically does not comment or answer questions during public hearings, nor does it vote on issues the same night. King expects to the annexation vote to be held at the council's July 5 meeting.

If the city does decide to annex, it will probably be effective Sept. 30. Barring another court challenge, the city would begin police, garbage and other services in October.

In works since '01

The current annexation was discussed by the City Council during its March 2001 retreat. The city had annexed, or incorporated, 10 areas between 1981 and 1996, and councilmen believed it was time to look for an 11th addition or face long-term financial hardships.

"It won't benefit a lot of people -- and none of the people in this room," Mayor Hal Plonk said then. "But 40 years from now, it will keep the city viable."

"Anything that doesn't grow will die, and I'd like to see us keep growing," said then-Councilman J.B. Rhodes.

Don Chatman, then the planning director and now a councilman, said last week that he remembers the 2000 federal Census "played some role" in the city's decision to expand. Goldsboro had expected its population to be more than 47,000, but the Census reported it as less than 40,000. That cost the city hundreds of thousands in lost state revenues.

But those Census numbers weren't announced until a few weeks after the council's retreat. Still, the lost money might have kept annexation a hot topic.

City planners looked at six areas. Originally, an area along New Hope Road was thought to be the top option, but in 2002, the city focused on "Phase XI, Study Area E." That bureaucratic name refers to nearly 475 acres along Salem Church Road and Buck Swamp Road.

Almost all of it is residential land, including the Ashby Hills, Fallingbrook Estates, Morgan Trace, Buck Run, Pineview Acres, Tarklin Acres and Canterbury Village subdivisions. Homes in this area tend to be valued around $200,000, more than twice the average home price in the city now.

The annexation area includes more than 370 houses and around 1,100 residents.

In contrast, it has no industries, only a handful of commercial businesses along Buck Swamp Road and little potential for anything but more homes. About 70 acres are undeveloped, but most of that is in small lots inside neighborhoods.

The annexation would allow the city to continue to pursue some fast-growing areas that are beyond these neighborhoods.

The City Council has already served notice -- in October 2003 -- that it is considering annexing the Cedar Lake Estates, Lane Tree Village, Marsh Landing, North Creek, North Pointe and Pineview Estates neighborhoods, plus a portion of Tarklin Acres. That resolution of consideration expires this October unless the city was to act on it, City Planner Jimmy Rowe said last week.

Opposition on march

So far, the annexation opponents have successfully fended off the city's attempts to bring them into the city.

They convinced Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow to void last year's vote because, the judge ruled, the city had improperly kept city residents from speaking at the public hearing. That is why a new hearing will be held Tuesday.

Crow also forced the city to re-do its annexation report to assure that new residents would pay no more for water service than current city residents.

This stalling action has hit the city in its wallet. The budget for legal fees ran more than $70,000 over budget this year, partially due to the wrangling over the annexation.

Burnette hopes that the neighbors will eventually prevail, either with the City Council or in the court system.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the majority of us are opposed to this, and many people in the city feel the same way," he said. "I hear a lot of comments that they ought to fix what's inside their own borders before they go outside."

The opponents simply do not believe that the cost of annexation -- around $1,500-$2,000 per household -- would be worth the services they would receive, Burnette said. Plus, it doesn't seem to make sense from the city's standpoint.

"It would take them decades to pay off the debt of running those sewer lines," he said.

Some of the residents work in the Triangle and don't feel a tie to Goldsboro, he added. Many properties are almost six miles from downtown.

"I've offered to take any of the councilmen on a tour of the area. I don't think they have any idea of the distances involved," he said. "This is wrong, both morally and financially."

He will get a chance to make his case Tuesday night.