09/05/05 — Annexation foes file new petition

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Annexation foes file new petition

By Renee Carey
Published in News on September 5, 2005 1:47 PM

A group of residents protesting the planned annexation of their properties into the city of Goldsboro has filed another petition to get the action stopped.

This is not the first time members of Good Neighbors United have challenged the city's decision to annex their subdivisions, which are located along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads.

The group got the first involuntary annexation vote rejected after Wayne County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow kicked the measure back to the city council in April, upholding the petitioners' claims that there were some omissions and errors in the original proposal, which rendered it defective.

The council held more hearings and discussion and revoted this July. The motion to annex the properties carried by a count of 6-1, with Councilman Jimmy Bryan voting against the measure. The impletation of the annexation plan is scheduled for Sept. 30.

This latest challenge, which was filed Friday afternoon, is a result of that July vote, said Bill Burnette, president of the group.

Attorney James Eldridge of Wilmington, who represents the homeowners, said an annexation can be challenged for three reasons -- the annexation report or how the city plans to extend services to the area; the tests the city uses to make sure the area is sufficiently developed and ready for incorporation, which includes costs vs. revenues; and the procedures leading to and including the vote itself.

With each challenge, the city has to revamp and revote, if a judge agrees with the petitioners' claims. The annexation plan does not go away, however, Eldridge said.

"There is nothing to prevent the city from starting all over again," he said.

Eldridge and Burnette said the group has many issues with the city's annexation plan, most of which involve costs vs. revenue that will be generated. The group also says the city has not made adequate plans to deal with water delivery and fire protection.

Good Neighbors United is hinging its current challenge on another issue as well -- the spirit of North Carolina annexation laws and how the city's plan fits with those intentions. The group claims the laws originally intended municipalities to annex pieces of property near their boundaries to improve the services offered residents. If a township did not have a sewer system or could not care for its streets properly, annexation would allow the adjoining town to accept it into its boundaries and provide those services.

Burnette and Eldridge said the city's current annexation plan is based on enhancing the city's tax base -- and nothing else.

The houses in the subdivisions identified in the annexation proposal are high-dollar and would bring in more revenue, they said. The group claims boundaries were set not just to meet the state's test, which requires a certain "touching" between the area to be annexed and the municipality wishing to annex, but to make sure certain properties were included and excluded.

"The city intentionally manipulated boundary lines in order to meet that boundary test," Eldridge said. "It was an intentional manipulation to make everything fit."

That boundary challenge is the impetus for another of the group's court actions to stop the annexation plan. The N.C. Court of Appeals is currently examining the group's ability to challenge the Lane Farms-Howell property voluntary annexation, which Good Neighbors United says is flawed and void.

Without that voluntary annexation, which connects the two properties, the city's annexation plan cannot go forward. A judge has already ruled that the residents cannot challenge an annexation of an area in which they do not live. Good Neighbors United is questioning that decision, pointing out that the annexation directly affects their future and therefore they should be allowed to comment on it.

The case is expected to be heard sometime this year, with the new challenge expected to be litigated in late 2005 or early 2006.

No matter what, Burnette said the city is being foolish to continue with the annexation plan before the issues surrounding it have been resolved.

If the court finds in favor of Good Neighbors United in either case, the city will have to undo everything it does for annexation. A similar problem in Fayetteville cost that community a million dollars, Burnette said.

"They must have a pretty high level of confidence that the Court of Appeals will reject our petition," Eldridge added.

Eldridge and Burnette said the group is prepared to keep fighting.

"As long as they keep going forward and a court gives us the ability to stand in there, we will keep fighting this thing," Eldridge said. "Involuntary annexation is a harsh reality, You can go to bed in the county and wake up in the city and not have had any say in the matter."