03/12/06 — Annexation trial resumes Monday

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Annexation trial resumes Monday

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 12, 2006 2:13 AM

Goldsboro officials and residents along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads will be back in court Monday to determine whether the neighborhoods will be forcibly annexed into the city limits.

The residents have been staving off a city annexation for nearly two years.

City Counciil approved the first ordinance in 2004 to involuntarily annex the neighborhoods. Good Neighbors United formed in opposition to the city's decision and sued. The judge in that case ruled in favor of the city, but the residents appealed. An appeals court judge agreed the ordinance needed to be rewritten and another public hearing scheduled.

The city complied and in July approved a second annexation plan. The residents filed another petition challenging the new ordinance. In December, the city filed a motion to dismiss Good Neighbors United's lawsuit, which was denied by Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand, leading to Monday's trial.

North Carolina law permits municipalities to annex land even if residents don't want to be included in the city, if certain criteria are met. The city says it has met those requirements. The opponents disagree.

"We are going to put on our witnesses and show our exhibits and try to prove every claim on our petition," said Jim Eldridge, who represents Good Neighbors United.

One of those claims charges that the group's opposition is as much about how the city made its decision to annex as it is about actual annexation plan.

If Good Neighbors United can prove to Rand that the annexation decision included violations of public policy, the annexation would be ruled invalid.

And, at that point, the residents could begin again to make sure there is no annexation in their neighborhood, a cause they feel is justified.

"We intend that the cumulative effect of that rules in our favor," Eldridge said.

Good Neighbor United member Bill Burnette said he hopes Eldridge will prove the annexation of his and his neighbors' property is in violation of legislative policy.

If the judge rules against the annexation opponents, Burnette said they could consider an appeal. The judge could also rule partly in favor of the group, which is what occurred at the first trial, he said.

City Attorney Tim Finan, along with his predecessor Harrell Everett, will represent the city. The city can approach the trial one of two ways, Finan said.

"The petitioners appealed from the City Council decision to proceed with the annexation, so the burden of persuading the judge rests on them on why the judge should give them relief," he said.

Since a different judge listened to the first trial, Finan said he and Everett plan to explain what actions the city has taken and how those actions comply with annexation laws.

Both attorneys said the trial should take about two days, and the judge's decision should be heard during the week.

Rand could either make his ruling when the trial is finished or take it under advisement, Finan said. In complex cases, he said the judge will read through the information presented during the trial and research the laws dealing with the issues before making a decision.

"We want to stop this annexation in its tracks. If it does not occur, it is highly probable that we'll take it to appellate court," Burnette said.

The case that is currently in appellate court could also be a factor in the annexation of Good Neighbors United's property, Burnette said.

"If the appellate court rules in favor of us, all the dominos fall. It will break the contiguity of the city border with our property, and it nullifies the annexation," he said.

The city became contiguous with the properties at Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads following a voluntary annexation in 2000 of the Lane-Howell property. The property contains 360 acres on the east side of Salem Church Road between Stoney Hill Road and Fedelon Trail, and the city's acquisition of the property met a state criteria of contiguity for future annexations of surrounding land.