03/16/06 — City finishes testimony in annexation challenge

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City finishes testimony in annexation challenge

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 16, 2006 1:53 PM

The city of Goldsboro wrapped up its case Wednesday in the trial over whether the city will be allowed to annex an area along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads.

Residents of the area, known as Phase 11 in the city's long-term annexation plans, are suing the city, saying the City Council has no right to bring them into the city limits.

The trial opened Monday in Wayne County Superior Court. A previous trial on the same issue ended with a judge ordering the city to rewrite its annexation plan. The city complied, and the group, Good Neighbors United, sued a second time.

On Wednesday, city Planning Director Jimmy Rowe was the final witness called to testify on the city's behalf. Rowe described the methods the city planning staff used to determine the area to be annexed and how it would be served with trash collection, mosquito control and other services.

Jim Eldridge, a Wilmington lawyer representing the residents, called surveyor Richard Benton as the plaintiff's first witness. Benton testified that he had difficulty determining the boundaries of the area to be annexed when he tried to use the city planning staff's maps and methods. An accurate description of the area is required for annexation. A second witness, William LaRone, a real estate lawyer and broker, was about to take the stand when former City Attorney Harrell Everett objected to the direction he said Eldridge was taking the line of questioning. Everett said Eldridge's references to a recent state Supreme Court case about annexation were irrelevant. What is at issue is whether the city complied with existing state law regarding annexation, he said.

Judge Ridley Rand heard arguments on the issue from both lawyers and said he would rule this morning on Everett's objections. He then ordered the trial to continue.

The annexation plan includes portions of some subdivisions. State law does not require an annexed area to follow subdivision boundaries and city planners said they did not consider them in drawing the annexation map. Larone testified that if the annexation is approved, three homes in the Canterbury Village subdivision would be put under city restrictions regarding setbacks, fencing and landscaping while the other homes in the subdivision would not. The three homeowners also would depend on the city for police protection, while the other homes would call the Sheriff's Office in an emergency, he said.

Homeowner Bill Burnette was the last witness of the day. Burnette, one of the organizers of Good Neighbors United, testified that he and his neighbors would see little or no benefit from the annexation and that the City Council simply wants to annex them to increase its tax base. The average value of a home in the Phase 11 area is nearly $200,000, he said. Burnette said city officials had referred to the area as a "handsome tax base."

Everett told the court that the city has complied with state laws governing annexation and that the residents of Phase 11 would benefit from annexation by having cheaper water, spraying for mosquitoes and lower fire insurance premiums.

The trial was to continue today in courtroom No. 4 at the Wayne County Courthouse.