01/19/09 — Association ready to fight involuntary annexation

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Association ready to fight involuntary annexation

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 19, 2009 1:46 PM

RALEIGH -- Sounding at times like a council of war, the state's county commissioners last week threw down the gauntlet on the contentious issue of involuntary annexation.

Meeting at the Sheraton Raleigh for its annual legislative goals conference, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners made it clear that not only is the timing right, but that its members are ready to go to battle over involuntary annexation legislation.

A less confrontational approach was counseled by some association members who also have served on city councils.

They countered that without annexation cities would suffer and be unable to grow.

The fight, some argued, is not winnable because urban lawmakers outnumber those from rural areas.

Other members said they were ready for the struggle and noted that hundreds of annexation foes have visited lawmakers in Raleigh to voice their opposition.

Annexation battles are nothing new to Wayne County.

Residents living along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads fought annexation by Goldsboro for four years before losing the battle when the North Carolina Supreme Court last year declined to review the decision made by the state Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals had ruled in the city's favor last January, saying that the previous judge made the correct decision in June 2007 when he said the city had met all the legal requirements necessary under state law to bring the area into the city limits.

To set the stage for the battle, the vast majority of the some 100 voting delegates approved a legislative goal that consists of five points, two of which were amended before approval.

Calls for votes in favor of the goals received loud responses while calls against received just a handful.

The annexation goal was one of a multitude considered during the day long session touching on justice and public safety, taxation and finance, environment, human services and intergovernmental relations, which included annexation.

Wayne County Commission Chairman Bud Gray was out of the room when the vote was taken.

Gray said that while he personally is opposed to forced annexation, his board is split on the issue and that he would not have voted had he been in the room.

Also attending from Wayne County were Commissioners Jack Best, J.D. Evans, Sandra McCullen and Steve Keen, County Manager Lee Smith and clerk to the board Marcia Wilson. Commissioner Andy Anderson was out of the state and Commissioner John Bell was unable to attend because of a family illness.

The proposed annexation goal originally had sought legislation requiring the direct provision of municipal water and sewer services to customers within five years of annexation.

One member said he knew of some areas still lacking those services up to 10 years after being annexed. Another suggested reducing the time to two years, but agreed to change it to three years after another delegate said that two years did not allow enough time for planning.

The change was approved.

Also amended was a goal seeking legislation requiring a referendum on proposed involuntary annexation in areas where public services -- water and sewer and solid waste -- are already in place.

The first amendment would have shortened it to read "requiring a referendum on proposed involuntary annexation." The amendment was rejected.

The second amendment that was approved changed the goal to read "requiring a referendum on proposed involuntary annexation and to set the effective date for involuntary annexation to be June 30 following the date of adoption or final resolution of an appeal."

The amendment was offered as a way to reduce paperwork and confusion generated by tax offices having to mail out pro-rated tax bills.

A third amendment that also was approved adds that "counties should have the option of continuing to provide utilities to annexed areas were services are already provide to protect county investments.'

Other goals approved without amendments were to seek legislation:

* Requiring the development of joint utility service plans for urbanizing areas;

* Requiring cities to reimburse counties for the loss of sales tax due to annexation;

* Increasing the degree of urbanization required to annex property.

Submitted but not voted on was the addition of a goal opposing annexation across county lines without the approval of the other county.