03/08/11 — De-annexation bill gets OK from Senate

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De-annexation bill gets OK from Senate

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 8, 2011 1:46 PM

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The crossroads of Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads, seen above, is at the center of the controversial annexation of the area by the city of Goldsboro. A measure has been introduced in the Legislature that would rescind the annexation and on Monday, the state Senate voted to put a statewide moratorium on such annexations until state laws can be examined.

Goldsboro city councilmen were largely united in their outrage Monday over legislation filed by state Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, to deannex portions of Goldsboro incorporated into city limits in 2008.

The bill, filed last week and co-sponsored by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, would affect the Buck Swamp and Falling Brook areas of the city that were the subject of a long court battle that was finally decided in favor of the city.

Opponents, though, still argue that the city didn't follow proper procedure when involuntarily annexing the property, and that now that it has, that it has not lived up to its service requirements -- primarily due to the lack of sewer service two years later.

And Sager has explained it was for those reasons that he reintroduced the bill which failed to get even a committee hearing in 2009.

However, as League of Municipalities Executive Director Ellis Hankins noted during the council's work session Monday, the climate at the General Assembly is different this year with Republicans holding the majority in both chambers. He explained that traditionally, the General Assembly will not oppose a local bill if it's something that all the members of that community's delegation agree on, and that in this case, Sager and LaRoque are on board, while Sens. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, and David Rouzer, R-Johnston, are expected to be as well. Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, however has refused to join the effort.

Hankins also said that successful local bills also typically have a large amount of local support, and that while the deannexation of specific tracts has been approved before, never has there been a bill affecting this much area.

"In my 30 years, I have never seen a bill like this. I have never seen the General Assembly deannex any significant area over the objections of a city council," he said. "This bill has a long way to go if it's going to be enacted."

But, he said, that doesn't mean the council shouldn't fight it.

And if it does, he said the League would help fight it, too -- even as it works this session to negotiate a compromise to the current involuntary annexation laws, which date back to the 1950s.

And so the council voted 4 to 1, with Michael Headen dissenting, to direct interim City Manager Tasha Logan to come up with a resolution opposing the legislation in time for the next meeting on March 21.

Among the council's primary concerns were what would happen to the $3.7 million already spent to extend services such as police, fire and trash pickup into the community, and to begin work for the upcoming sewer projects, which are estimated to cost about $6 million more to complete.

"We've fought this and we've won at every level," Mayor Al King said. "We've been providing services to this area since September '08. We couldn't start on the sewer because we were in court. But we've already spent a tremendous amount of money. And for me, my question is, if this is deannexed, who's going to give us our money back."

But for him and other city councilmen, equally disappointing about House Bill 196 was the fact that it was filed without a word from the legislators.

"The whole city is affected; 38,000 people are affected," Councilman Bob Waller said. "It bothers me they didn't come before this council to discuss this. The welfare of this city has not been mentioned anywhere. Our legislators have not shown to me that they're interested in the welfare of Goldsboro. If they want to deannex, tell me how Goldsboro is to survive."

But Councilman Michael Headen, who has voiced opposition to the annexation in the past, took a more measured view of the legislators' actions and said he was not opposed to the measure.

"I've had more than my share of phone calls and spend more of my time talking to people upset about this," he said. "The bill is in and we just have to wait and see what happens."