07/06/08 — Local officials and residents watching annexation with wary eyes

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Local officials and residents watching annexation with wary eyes

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 6, 2008 2:01 AM


Assistant News Editor

State lawmakers took another step toward delaying involuntary annexations in North Carolina -- and possibly in Wayne County -- Wednesday as the House approved a plan to temporarily freeze cities' and towns' ability to grab county land without voter approval.

The bill, which was approved 98-18, would impose a nine-month moratorium following several months of public hearings where state residents voiced concerns that municipalities are abusing their power to add to their borders.

"Annexation of course is necessary for city growth," said Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne. "But I do believe that after 50 years, we may have strayed away from what the initial intent was with involuntary annexation."

They also almost strayed from the original intent of the moratorium bill after a House committee version stripped the first version of much of its teeth, saying only that annexations adopted under the legislation's timetable would not become effective until after the nine months.

Wednesday's vote, however, came after the bill was re-amended to say that no annexation action may be initiated during the nine months between Aug. 31 and May 31, and that any initiated before then, but not yet effective, would be delayed.

"A moratorium is a moratorium. It's unfortunate that's where we are, but if you're going to do this, you have to do it 100 percent," Pate said.

The bill's language seems as if it would also include Goldsboro's annexation of the Buck Swamp Road area in the delay -- unless a decision is returned by the state Supreme Court before Aug. 31, in which case the annexation ordinance could be adopted before the moratorium begins.

But, said Bob Pleasants, president of Good Neighbors United -- the group of residents that filed the suit against Goldsboro -- he's not sure when that decision will be returned. He hopes, though, it will fall under the bill so that the city's action will at least be delayed.

And so, said City Manager Joe Huffman, they will just have to wait and see.

"At this point, we just have to see what happens," he said. "We have to wait and see what the General Assembly decides, and then we'll go from there. And then we have to wait on the Supreme Court ruling."

In the meantime, Pleasants said that Good Neighbors is going to continue pushing for the bill's passage.

"We are very ecstatic because this is a major breakthrough. We are optimistic about the bill passing through the Senate, too," he said. "We are going to make contact with the
legislators about the bill.

"We will e-mail them, call them and so forth. We are going to re-intensify our efforts to talk with senators just as hard as we can with everyone we can get to do that."

And they won't be the only ones. Other citizens and grassroots groups also are fighting against involuntary annexation, complaining that some cities and towns don't follow the law requiring notice and public hearings on the expansions and that the action is "undemocratic" because residents are
powerless to stop it.

But local officials --
supported by the North Carolina League of Municipalities -- say the 1959 involuntary annexation law allows them to manage population growth

The proposed freeze is meant to give lawmakers time to study the state's annexation law and propose changes.

"I think we will continue to work through this and the committee will come up with some proposed legislation for the long session next year," said Pate, a member of the study committee that
originally proposed the pause. "We recognize annexation is important and has to be done, but we just want to see if there's a better way of doing it -- of letting the
citizens involved have more of a voice in the process."

The plan is now in the hands of the Senate for its consideration.

-- News-Argus Staff Writer Anessa Myers and The Associated Press
contributed to this report