04/11/08 — Legislative annexation committee meeting

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Legislative annexation committee meeting

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on April 11, 2008 2:03 PM

After holding their third public hearing since the end of the North Carolina General Assembly's 2007 session Wednesday, members of a special House committee on municipal annexation are weighing what recommendations they might make when the legislature reconvenes May 13.

One such possibility, said committee member Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, is some type of moratorium.

"It's a very complicated issue, and I'm sympathetic to both sides," the former Mount Olive mayor and state Senate District 5 candidate said. "I'd say the most practical thing that we can hope for with the short session would be a moratorium. If a moratorium were enacted, it would give people time to sit back and reflect, and the legislature time to do a full study on the impact of the law as it is now and what possible changes might be considered. You don't just run into something like this and go to slashing and burning."

But, he acknowledged that it's looking more and more like something will have to be done with the 1959 law -- if not during the short session then at least in 2009.

"The theme has been the same all across the state," Pate said. "Just about everybody we listened to, except for city officials, are highly upset with the forced or involuntary annexation laws the way they're written."

And on Wednesday, with more than 300 people in attendance and about 100 of them speaking -- including five from Wayne County -- that refrain continued.

"The overwhelming number of people there were against involuntary annexation," Pate said. "Some of then feel involuntary annexations are just a land grab to capture the tax value."

Goldsboro Mayor Pro-tempore Chuck Allen, however, was one of the minority of people who spoke in support.

"There were about 20 people there for it, and 2 million against it," he joked.

He said he talked about the positive points of annexation, and specifically how the annexation of property along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads would ultimately help both parties involved, an annexation that would add about 1,100 citizens and 372 homes to the city's population.

Currently, residents of that area are appealing a ruling made in favor of the city earlier this year to allow for the annexation. The legal process for this annexation in particular has gone on for several years, with multiple rulings and appeals.

Bob Pleasants and Ken Wadsworth, two Wayne County citizens that are residents of the area that the city of Goldsboro is trying to annex, said they were in complete opposition to the law.

They were joined by Wayne County Commissioner and state House District 11 candidate, Efton Sager.

"Everyone agrees cities and towns need laws to provide for the orderly development and extension of public services as a municipality grows," he said. "The question the general assembly must answer is the extent to which municipalities should have the unfettered and extraordinary right to use governmental power to expand their borders through forced, involuntary annexation.

"These citizens should be allowed to vote as they do in other states. At the very least, their elected representatives, the county commissioners should have a role to approve or disapprove an involuntary annexation."

Other concerns raised by county Commissioner Andy Anderson included the need to ensure that if annexation does occur, that it is done smoothly and that county and city governments work together on issues such as zoning, especially as they involve protection of areas like airports.

Bob Pleasants, president of Good Neighbors United, a group comprised of residents of the Buck Swamp area who have joined forces to oppose the annexation of their property into city limits, also spoke to lawmakers. His organization has "spent countless hours and over $150,000 fighting the forced annexation of residential neighborhoods which are far removed from developed municipal areas and in need of none of the services a city might provide," he said.

Both he and Wadsworth expressed their opinions that the voluntary annexation of the Lane-Howell property by the city of Goldsboro -- property that allowed the involuntary annexation of the Buck Swamp area -- was illegal.

Pleasants also stated that the city "targeted the community specifically to garner an attractive tax base and to manipulate the racial makeup of the city ... completely ignoring overwhelming citizenry input."

The law states that towns and cities are able to annex land that adjoins city limits or other annexed land outside of city limits and meets certain population and development density standards, but the municipality must hold two public meetings and agree to provide emergency and street services to those citizens.

But the municipal leaders and business boosters speaking in favor of annexation asked House members to leave the law intact in order to promote effective growth of property and population, offer improved water and emergency services and bring in new industries and attractions.

"I would like to start by saying to the folks against annexation that I do understand their pain and feelings, and if I were in their position, I would probably be doing what they are doing," he said. "But they equally have to understand that, as a city council, our job is to do what's in the best interest of Goldsboro and the majority of our citizens, and the annexation laws are just one of the tools we use to do this job.

"I believe we use it very judiciously here in Golds-boro."

Annexation is a good technique for economic development, if it is done right, he added.

"Reasonable judicious annexation is a method to avoid costly duplication of services, multiple tax districts and a proliferation of small governments lacking the resources to meet the needs of citizens," he said. "It is a way to have more of the folks who benefit from the economic strength of the city and towns to share in the cost of those benefits."

Without annexation, Goldsboro residents might not see more commercial businesses.

"Why is annexation important to Goldsboro? It's quite honestly all about numbers. We need more population and better demographics to attract the Red Lobsters, Olive Garden, Circuit City/Best Buy, Home Depot and the upper scale grocery stores that our citizens are requesting."

And as for those in the annexed areas, Allen believes they receive plenty of benefits as well, including sewer services, lower water rates, better fire protection, help with substandard streets and ditches and lower insurance rates.

Mayor Al King is also for annexation. He has emphasized the city's need to grow and to take in developing areas around it.

"The city needs to grow or it will die," he said. "Every decision I have made has not been because of any group or any personality but for what is best for the city of Goldsboro."

-- The Associated Press and Staff Writer Matthew Whittle contributed to this report.