06/13/08 — Committee approves annexation moratorium

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Committee approves annexation moratorium

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on June 13, 2008 1:47 PM

Goldsboro's annexation of the property along Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads is looking more and more like it will be put on hold after the powerful House Finance Committee voted in favor of a one-year moratorium on involuntary annexations Thursday.

The legislation, which was approved 25-4, is intended to give lawmakers time to study and propose changes to the state annexation laws before the 2009 long session. It would halt the practice until June 30, 2009. It would not affect voluntary annexations.

It came as a result of a series of public hearing sheld by House study committee since the end of the 2007 session that were attended by more than 1,000 people, including several from Wayne County.

"It does not say that we're going to end involuntary annexation. It says we're going to study the laws as they are now and see if there are any solutions that may be able to make things run a little bit better for both the municipalities and the people being annexed in," Pate said.

And so in order for that to happen, he believes the moratorium is necessary.

"There are so many annexations going on right now and we don't have a monitor right now making sure everybody is living up to their part of the bargain, he said. "I think it has a good chance of passing the House. Then we'll just have some homework to do in the Senate."

The bill now goes to a House judiciary committee, and still would have to pass the full House and the Senate before the session ends, probably within the next month. And the North Carolina League of Municipalities, representing hundreds of communities, opposes it.

"We still have a lot of work to do in the Senate," said Cathy Heath of Cary, president of the Stop NC Annexation Coalition.

Towns and cities can involuntarily annex adjoining land that meets certain population or development density standards. The municipality must hold two public meetings and affirm that it will provide emergency and street services to the new citizens and has the money to expand water and sewer mains for hookups.

But the moratorium's supporters complain that municipalities aren't promptly providing city services such as sewer and water after forcibly annexing property. They also argue the annexation process gives citizens little say about their future or recourse when delivery of those services is delayed.

"The law could be good but it is abused, and I think there is irrefutable evidence," said Tony Tetterton of Johnston County, who has fought annexation by the town of Selma.

The bill would block a town or city from starting an annexation effort during the moratorium period or push back completion of any pending annexation until after the pause.

North Carolina League of Municipalities lobbyist Andy Romanet says the group is willing to consider some changes to the annexation rules. But a moratorium could cost local governments nearing completion of projects hundreds of thousands of dollars in planning or equipment expenses that they won't be able to use, Romanet said.

"We absolutely oppose throwing out the baby with the bath water," Romanet said.

Some legislators said the annexation law, first passed in 1959, has worked well in most cases and has helped cities remain healthy through orderly growth.

"We have given towns the authority to grow up," said Rep. Pryor Gibson, D-Anson, who offered a failed amendment to end the moratorium on Jan. 1. "But here we are, taking away what we give to towns because we lack the political courage" to tackle any shortcomings in the rules now, he added.

Many moratorium supporters want to require a local vote before an involuntary annexation can be carried out, but such a change is unlikely. Other suggestions have included requiring cities and towns to meet a schedule on providing municipal services to annexed land, and helping property owners get city taxes deferred or refunded if those timetables aren't met.

For now, though, Bob Pleasants, president of Good Neighbors United, a group fighting Goldsboro's annexations in court, is pleased with the direction taken by the General Assembly.

"This is really a very big step. I was very pleased at the way the vote went. It was pretty much overwhelming, and there were two or three at least who really spoke out in favor based on the testimony they heard at the committee hearings this spring," he said. "The legislature is beginning to understand the problem better now, and when we talked to the committee, we told them that if there are enough problems associated with the law that you need to study it, then it certainly would be unconscionable to not put it under a moratorium."