03/13/09 — Legislators propose bill to undo city annexation

View Archive

Legislators propose bill to undo city annexation

By Matthew Whittle and Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 13, 2009 1:46 PM

Two Wayne County legislators introduced bills Thursday to deannex the Buck Swamp and Falling Brook areas that were recently brought into Goldsboro's city limits.

In the N.C. House, Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said he put the bill forward at the request of residents living in the affected area.

"Over 300 residents signed a petition from the Falling Brook community, and the Good Neighbors United group presented it to me," he said. "When you've got 300 people requesting a bill for something, I think we need to listen."

Sager added that he had not spoken to city officials about the action, saying he knew they would oppose the bill.

Bob Pleasants, head of Good Neighbors United, said that of the possible 355 homeowners in the area, 312 were contacted and 302 signed the petition.

And for Sager and Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, that was all the motivation they needed.

"I think both Efton and I are doing the best we can to represent our constituents," Rouzer said.

Rouzer introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The bills come just months after the N.C. Court of Appeals declined to hear the lawsuit Good Neighbors United had brought against the city in its attempt to stop the 2004 action.

The hope, Sager said, is that the legislative process can offer relief to residents that the court system did not.

Since then, however, the city has begun to extend services to the area.

However, Rouzer said because the city wasn't too far along in that process, he did not believe stopping it would have any adverse effects.

"This is not intended to be an affront to the city of Goldsboro," he said. "I'm sure they went through the full, legal process. I'm not saying the city did anything wrong or subverted the rules, and I'm not trying to put the city in a fix. But I feel my constituents have a legitimate gripe and somebody needs to stand up for them, and I certainly am willing to do that."

This bill also comes at a time when the future of involuntary annexation is poised to be a much-contested topic in Raleigh, with a study commission having spent the last year hearing residential and municipal concerns on the issue and multiple reform bills already introduced.

"Annexation is a hot topic," Rouzer said, adding that he hopes this action can help force a change to the current laws. "And it's going to continue to be until all sides are forced to the table to come up with something the majority of people can support."

Both Rouzer and Sager have been vocal about the need for annexation reform, including a desire for affected residents to have more opportunity for input.

Goldsboro began extending city services to the Buck Swamp and Falling Brook areas in September 2008, with the exception of sewer service, which is still in development, City Manager Joe Huffman said.

Officials are calculating how much money the city has already spent providing the services, and examining the possible financial repercussions if the bills become law, he said.

"I'm trying to collect the data," Huffman said.

But utilities aren't the real issue, Pleasants said.

"We didn't need sewer service. We had water. We have fire hydrants," he said. "There was nothing the city could give us but higher taxes. They just wanted to get the tax base. It had nothing to do with giving us services."

Good Neighbors United believes the city of Golds-boro has ignored homeowners' concerns, Pleasants said.

"The folks out here have never been in favor of annexation," he said. "They simply wouldn't listen."

And the petition lists those grievances, accusing the city of having "gerrymandered annexation boundaries ... to meet contiguity requirements," "ignored the objections of thousands of citizens," and having "nothing new" to offer residents "in the way of 'meaningful and needed' services, just stricter regulation of their lives and higher taxes."

But said city Councilman Bob Waller, the bills are simply a "back door" attempt at overturning a legal annexation action.

"I think it's self-serving," Waller said. "Everything was done legally and it had been proven legally in the North Carolina State Supreme Court. What else can you do?"