06/18/06 — Judge upholds city annexation plan

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Judge upholds city annexation plan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 18, 2006 2:07 AM

After years of debate and litigation, the annexation can begin for the neighborhoods near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads north of Goldsboro, following the announcement of Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand's ruling in favor of the city.

In his decision, Rand ruled that the petitioners, a group known as Good Neighbors United, failed to meet its burden of proof showing that the annexation would not provide sound urban development for the neighborhoods, the city could not provide major services to the residents and that the annexation did not meet state requirements.

The neighbors have been fighting the city's annexation request for the past two years -- ever since Goldsboro City Council approved the first ordinance in 2004 to involuntarily annex the neighborhoods.

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. City officials argued in March that it had met those requirements, while their opponents argued differently.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow agreed that the ordinance needed to be rewritten and another public hearing scheduled. And so, the city complied, and approved a second annexation plan last July. The residents filed another petition challenging the new ordinance, leading to March's trial.

City Manager Joe Huffman said his staff has been preparing for a favorable ruling and will be able to offer a smooth transition of services to the new Goldsboro residents.

"We're ready to move," he said. "As far as the city goes, we are just planning on serving the area. My job as the city manager is when an area is annexed, to serve that area and serve it well."

Once the annexation takes effect, the city will be responsible for providing every service current residents receive -- police and fire protection, street construction and maintenance, water and sewer service and more.

In the Phase XI, Study Area E Annexation Report adopted in February 2004, officials outlined the services they will now provide to the designated annexation areas and the costs associated with them.

The total expenditures involved with the annexation total more than $7 million. In the 2006-07 fiscal year budget recently approved by Goldsboro City Council, close to $850,000 was appropriated to begin covering these costs.

Of that total, more than $600,000 will be used to cover Goldsboro's mosquito control program, the installation of necessary signage and street lighting, three General Services employees and four police officers.

The remaining funds will be used to cover the installation of fire hydrants and a statutorily required payment to the water district authorities currently serving the area, the Belfast-Patetown and Fork Township sanitary districts.

The city will also provide sanitation services including trash, yard waste and recycling collections. The 29 percent of property owners who requested sewer service will receive it through the installation of sewer lines connecting to the city's lines.

While Huffman and his team are prepared for -- and excited about -- providing service to the newly annexed area, some residents are not happily entering the Goldsboro community.

Bill Burnette, who lives in the proposed annexation area, helped form Good Neighbors United. He was out of town Friday when Rand filed his order and ruling, but said he was aware of the judge's decision.

"Myself and the Good Neighbors United's attorney have not had a chance to read the full judgment," he said. "The only thing we know is that (Rand) ruled in (the city's) favor, but we don't know the rationale behind it. Until we read it, I don't know what our next move will be."

One possibility for the neighbors is to appeal Rand's decision, since the ruling did not say the group couldn't challenge the ruling. But Rand ruled in favor of the city on every argument presented by Burnette and Good Neighbors United, leaving little room for further litigation.

City Attorney Tim Finan said he and former City Attorney Harrell Everett were pleased with the judge's decision.

"The city feels vindicated that the judge agrees with how the city interpreted the law," Finan said.

He added city staff have worked hard for the past two years to make the annexation possible and now they can finish what they started.

"Now it's time to go forward with the annexation. I believe we are going to review the matter sometime in the next 30 or 45 days and make sure there will be no further litigation," Finan said.