07/03/05 — Annexation vote set for Tuesday

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Annexation vote set for Tuesday

By Renee Carey
Published in News on July 3, 2005 2:00 AM

County residents who want to influence Goldsboro City Council's vote concerning a proposed annexation will run out of time Tuesday.

The council is expected to vote on the proposal to annex nearly 475 acres and about 370 homes in neighborhoods along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads at its meeting Tuesday, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Bill Burnette, who also serves as president of Good Neighbors United, a group of homeowners organized to fight the annexation, wants City Council members to delay their vote. He said there are too many unanswered questions about costs and purpose, and a whole lot of people who do not want their property involuntarily annexed into the city.

That, combined with what he says are some concerns about loose ends that could cost city taxpayers money, is enough to warrant a slower pace, he said.

Burnette claims council members rushed to get the annexation proposal in place to stop a group of homeowners, of which he is a member, from continuing with plans to incorporate. The "Northbrook initiative" had to be approved by the North Carolina Legislature according to state law, he said.

"I think at the city level, there was some concern that we would incorporate before they could annex us," he said.

The Northbrook proposal did not get the necessary approvals, and that is when the annexation talk intensified, Burnette claims.

The current annexation was discussed by City Council during its March 2001 retreat. The city had annexed or incorporated 10 areas between 1981 and 1996. The current annexation proposal was No. 11.

Burnette claims the incorporation plan added a "sense of urgency" to the March 2001 discussion.

Residents received a letter of intent in February 2004. A town meeting was set for March 25 and a public hearing was held April 5 of that year. An annexation vote was taken April 19, 2004, but the decision was challenged by annexation opponents and later voided by Wayne County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow, who determined that city residents were not offered the opportunity to speak at the public hearing. The annexation report also had to be redone to make sure new residents wouldn't have to pay more for water.

Burnette said the water error is just one of many slips he and other annexation opponents have spotted in the annexation plan.

"We told them about the problem with the water rates," he said. "They just ignored us."

Too many slips could cost the city -- and taxpayers -- big money in the long run, he added.

The new hearing, which was held last week, brought more than 250 people out to speak about the annexation plan.

In addition to the concerns already expressed by Good Neighbors United, audience members also questioned the need to annex more property when some city residents have not yet been given the services they were promised when they were annexed.

Others, like resident Judith McMillen, a Realtor and resident in the identified area, claimed the annexation proposal had already started to affect buyer interest in the identified neighborhoods and developer interest in the county.

Burnette said he and others do not want City Council to rush into a decision that could result in unforeseen costs for the project that already has a pretty hefty pricetag -- $7.3 million in start-up costs -- and a rather long period before city officials say they would "break even" -- 30 years.

"The city got on a fast train and in doing so, they made some mistakes," he said. "Did they do a cost-benefit analysis? No. I don't believe the expense of annexation has been costed out."

Burnette is especially concerned about a lawsuit his group has pending challenging the initial voluntary annexation of the Lane Farms-Howell property, which, if found to have been done improperly, would be declared void. That annexation provides the contiguous line that connects the proposed annexation area to the city limits. Without that contiguous line, there would be no legal way to proceed with the annexation proposal.

The issue is currently before an appellate court, where a determination will be made as to whether the annexation opponents have a right to challenge the conduct of the Lane Farms-Howell property annexation.

Until that issue is resolved, annexation should not proceed, Burnette said.

"I feel it is premature for there to be a vote," he said.

Annexation opponents have questioned everything from fire protection and sewer line installation costs to the very definition of growth, which is the reason city officials have given for the annexation plan.

"If you have an $85,000 house and you annex in a $200,000 house, the value of the $85,000 house does not go up," Burnette said. "The value of the $200,000 house goes down. How is that beneficial growth?"

Opponents also claim the annexation plans will push more development into Johnston County as residents worry their neighborhood might be next on the annexation list.

And then there is the issue of other areas that have less expensive houses, but a real need for city services. Burnette and others say that even though these areas are near the city limits, they are not part of any annexation plan. That does not seem fair, he said.

But what really concerns Burnette and others, he said, is the idea of an involuntary annexation. He said demanding that 1,000 people who have signed petitions to stop a government from taking over their neighborhood should have some voice in their futures.

"When you start messing with people's lives, you are going to get that kind of reaction," he said.

He said despite what some city officials might think, the protests against the annexation are not just based on personal issues, but also in a real concern for the community. No one wants to see the city make a costly mistake, Burnette said.

"We are not a bunch of rabble-rousers," he said. "We believe strongly that this annexation is not the right thing to do, and that it was not done properly.

"There is nobody out there who is anti-Goldsboro. We are anti-what is happening to us."

And he is more than willing, as he says he has offered before, to share specifics about his concerns with any county or city official who is willing to listen.

"I don't think any of these guys have gotten into their cars and driven out there," he said. "I'll pick every one of them up and give them a guided tour."

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

But if Tuesday's vote affirms the annexation proposal, Burnette said his group is ready.

"We will fight this until our last breath," he said.

-- Some information from stories written by News-Argus Staff Writer Matt Shaw was used for this report.