10/02/06 — County leaders want state to eye annexation

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County leaders want state to eye annexation

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 2, 2006 1:56 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution last month asking state legislators to study municipal annexation laws, a move some Goldsboro officials say they do not understand.

Commissioner Efton Sager offered the resolution. He said nearly a dozen other county boards of commissioners across the state have submitted similar requests.

According to state law, county officials have no legal say when a municipality decides to annex a section of land that meets the criteria for annexation.

Sager said last week that he simply believed it was time Wayne County addressed the issue.

"We've just asked the state to study the issue. We're not implying that there's anything wrong (with the existing laws). We just think it's time they took a look at it," Sager said.

The resolution comes at a time when the city of Goldsboro is involved in a lawsuit over the involuntary annexation of neighborhoods along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads.

Goldsboro City Council member Don Chatman said the state's annexation laws were last reviewed and amended in the late 1990s. At that time, Chatman said, the state made several minor adjustments to how property qualifies for involuntary annexation.

North Carolina law permits municipalities to annex property, even if the residents don't want to annexed, if certain criteria regarding land mass and population are met. The state is one of only a few in the nation that have such involuntary annexation laws on the books.

Asking the state to review those laws again seems unwarranted, Chatman said.

"I don't see the point of studying and restudying the issue," he said.

But a majority of the county commissioners disagreed. Commissioners J.D. Evans, Bud Gray and Andy Anderson joined Sager in approving the resolution. Commissioners Atlas Price, John Bell and Jack Best voted against it.

Best said he voted against the annexation resolution because it undermines what the city is trying to accomplish. The commissioners could've waited until the city's annexation issue with the Salem Church and Buck Swamp neighborhoods is resolved before taking a stance, he said.

"We're partners with the city of Goldsboro and we have to continue to be. Partners don't undermine what the other partner does," Best said.

While the city is involved in a lawsuit, city officials and their actions shouldn't be discouraged or encouraged by the commissioners or other county officials, Best said.

Price said he didn't vote against the idea of allowing a state commission to study annexation laws, but, like Best, he voted against its timing.

"We don't need to fight (the city's) issues when they're involved in a court case," Price said.

When the issue between the city and Good Neighbors United has been resolved, Price said, he would like to see officials with the state League of Municipalities and the state Association of County Commissioners develop an agreement which could be taken to legislators for discussion.

Anderson said the intention of the county's resolution was to look at existing annexation laws statewide -- not to focus on the lawsuit between Goldsboro and Good Neighbors United.

"The resolution didn't say anything on Goldsboro, but some people thought it inferred it. That wasn't the intent. We want to look at this issue statewide," Anderson said.

Anderson said he voted for the resolution because he believes the county should have some say in the annexation process. The authority granted to municipalities to annex property through a voluntary, involuntary or satellite annexation can cause problems, Anderson said, especially if the area considered for annexation has been zoned by the county for a specific reason.

A city or town could annex and rezone property without the input of county officials who may have zoned that property for a specific purpose, Anderson said. Areas such as airports and hospitals have zoning around them for a particular reason. If a municipality rezoned that property, it could become detrimental to that airport, hospital or other property, he added.

Protecting residents and local governments from situations such as these is all the commissioners are asking to state to examine, Evans said.

"I don't believe there's anything wrong with questioning the General Assembly to study the situation. The world and conditions are changing and we have to stay in tune with what's going on," Evans said.

The Goldsboro City Council approved an annexation ordinance to involuntarily annex the Salem Church and Buck Swamp neighborhoods in 2004. The residents of those neighborhoods formed a group called Good Neighbors United in opposition of the city's plan and filed a lawsuit.

After two years of wrangling, the issue is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court, which can decide to take up the issue or ignore it.