04/21/10 — Residents upset over sewer fees

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Residents upset over sewer fees

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 21, 2010 1:46 PM

They came demanding answers -- using words like extortion to characterize a resolution recently adopted by the Goldsboro City Council that would require newly annexed residents to pay special assessments for installation of a sanitary sewer system.

But those dozens living in the vicinity of Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads who attended and spoke at a public hearing Monday night regarding the issue did not get what they came for.

A group of the city's newest residents said it was appalled by the notion that homeowners would have to pay thousands of dollars per household for installation of a system most said they simply do not need.

Under the resolution, adopted April 5, residents of Annexation Area XI would be required to pay $17 per abutting property linear foot for sewer -- the payment, which most said has been estimated in the thousands for their household, would be paid either in a lump sum or a five-year payment carrying an 8 percent interest rate.

Richard Kennedy was among those who told council members they were placing an unfair burden on hard-working people.

"I can't help but ask also that you give consideration to the financial stress caused by decisions that you're going to make in this area, particularly during a time of economic downturn, when several people are losing their jobs," he said. "With all the fees and costs involved, especially the 8 percent interest that we're going to pay on money that we're loaning to the city, it's our money that we're paying interest on ... take that into consideration. ... Why can't the taxes that we're paying the city now cover that?

"I mean, we paid a whole year and a half of taxes and the only thing we've gotten for it is lights so far ... and not much of anything else."

Susan Mintz agreed, calling the city taxes she recently paid a "hard hit" -- one she claims forced one of her neighbors to leave the neighborhood because he simply couldn't afford to stay.

"You put a burden on (him) last year. A burden (he) couldn't get out of," she said. "And now you're going to put a burden on quite a few other people. Can I survive? Absolutely. Will it make it difficult? Absolutely. But it didn't matter to you all.

"I'm disappointed in you. And I truly hope that you go home and you pray about what you have done to these people. ... And you continue to step on them. ... It doesn't make me proud to call this place my home."

Bob Pleasants is still unhappy that the annexation occurred in the first place and said he doesn't feel like he should be forced to replace his existing waste system.

"The bottom line is this: I was annexed against my will. I did not ask for sewer service. I don't need sewer service. I don't intend to use sewer service," he said. "Why should I pay for infrastructure that I didn't ask for and don't need? You've already extorted two years of tax money from the citizens out in the Buck Swamp area. Use that money if you want to run sewer lines."

And John Williams called the pending assessments "taxation without representation," and was among those who said he has yet to see a "return" on his investment of tax dollars.

"We're paying money for what? No fire coverage, at least not by a full-time fire company. ... I see a policeman once in a while, maybe once a week, maybe," he said. "I'm appalled. I'm just appalled at the whole thing. It makes people angry. It makes people angry and upset."

After fighting annexation by the city for four years, residents living along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads ultimately lost their battle when the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to review the decision made by the state Court of Appeals, which found in favor of the city in a brief filed in January 2008, saying that the previous judge, Ripley Rand, 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.

In his decision, Rand ruled that the petitioners, a group known as Good Neighbors United, failed to meet its burden of proof showing that the annexation would not provide sound urban development for the neighborhoods, the city could not provide major services to the residents and that the annexation did not meet state requirements.

But Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen, who has always supported the annexation, said the idea of residents there paying for sewer installation through special assessment is wrong.

"Fundamentally I'm against assessments. I've been against assessments ever since I was on this council," he told the crowd Monday. "I feel like if we're going to do the things we're going to do with water and sewer, we should take the burden of the costs. Assessments are not a fair thing."

Councilman Michael Headen agreed.

"These are hard-working, honest, good citizens of Goldsboro," he said. "We serve the people. We have a responsibility to listen to them. We have a responsibility to try and make it work for them. ... We can do better. We owe it to you to do better."

No formal vote on whether or not to move forward with installation of the sewer system funded by assessment was made Monday, as the council decided to pass the item to the Public Works Committee for further study.

But Allen said no matter what happens, he hopes, at some point, those living in the area around Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads will see Goldsboro as their home.

"They say time heals wounds," he said. "Well hopefully, over time, you all will feel like you're a part of the city."