07/26/09 — Local representatives skeptical of annexation bill's future

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Local representatives skeptical of annexation bill's future

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 26, 2009 2:00 AM

Two of Wayne County's three representatives voted earlier this week on a proposal to change the way annexations are handled in North Carolina. But now they're skeptical that the state Senate will approve the plan passed by the House.

The plan, which would allow those residents being annexed into city limits the opportunity to trigger a referendum by gathering signatures from 15 percent of the voters in both the areas to be annexed, was approved Thursday.

Reps. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, both voted for the bill.

Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, voted against it.

For the bill's supporters, it was a pretty significant victory.

"It was the best we could get," Sager said. "Even though it will be difficult to get the amount of signatures needed, at least it gives a chance to get on the ballot."

And now that this step has been taken, representatives are hopeful the Legislature can continue to work to improve the annexation process.

"This makes it tougher to annex, but it's not sufficient for either side," Braxton said. "I think this is a starting point. We need to make the annexation process fair for both the cities and the people on the outside. The folks outside will not be satisfied until there is no more involuntary annexation, which is a goal to work toward."

But first this bill must pass through the Senate, where legislators say municipalities are more heavily represented.

"I think it's going to be tough sledding in the Senate. There are some people who oppose it in the leadership," Sager said.

And Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, agreed.

"I think this was a good step in the right direction, and I think it's a significant victory for those who are proponents of annexation reform. I doubt it makes significant headway in the Senate. I don't think there's going to be enough time. It's a very complex and emotional issue, and the leadership in the Senate has a lot more sway on any bill than the leadership in the House. I'd be surprised if the Senate adopts what the House has passed."

And the sticking point is likely to be the referendum issue -- just like it was for Bell, who said he had been approached by city officials in both Goldsboro and Clinton about voting against such a proposal.

"I represent them, too," he said. "With that in there, I just couldn't support it. That could keep small towns from growing. I thought it was a good bill without it."

Even the Local Government Commission, he said, supported everything but the referendum issue.

"I think had they left that out it would have been a bill everybody could have supported," he said.

But Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, even though he wouldn't comment on the bill, indicated there's a good chance it may not even come up for debate this year.

"I have not had a chance to review the full bill," he said. "It came from the House and we're working hard to get a budget out. We haven't spoken about annexation."