Changes to state rules on annexing get first OK
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 13, 2011 1:46 PM
All of Wayne County state representatives voted in favor of the involuntary annexation reform bill Thursday. Sponsored by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, the bill is the first major overhaul of annexation rules that have been in effect since 1959.
"It passed with 102 votes, so we had broad-based bipartisan support," LaRoque said. "It's going to give people a voice. The voice issue is so important. I think it's a good compromise bill."
The biggest change would essentially allow residents in annexed areas to stop the annexation process if 60 percent of them opposed it in a petition. It also allows the residents of the annexed areas to receive free water and sewer hookups if the majority of them request it.
"It's quite complicated. It's hard to understand unless you read the bill all the way through," Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said, adding, though, that it doesn't go as far as annexation opponents wanted. "It was the best we could work out, but it's a step in the right direction. Even people who have been annexed were in support of it."
And, said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, it was better than the alternative that was on the table -- a complete moratorium.
"It's not what either side wanted," Bell said. "But we were told if this didn't pass that we were looking at a moratorium. And I talked with Goldsboro Mayor Al King, and he agreed, too, that this was better than a moratorium."
Still, local officials have their concerns about it.
"They're definitely moving toward some type of change and I think that's not necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be a way for cities to still grow," interim City Manager Tasha Logan said. "We need a way to have the individuals that use services and amenities to participate in the costs of that in some way. We'll have to figure out what that means for (Goldsboro)."
Of primary concern, she said, is the provision for free water and sewer hookups -- a condition that will likely cause the city to be more savvy with its utility and annexation plans in the future.
"The opportunity that we have is to focus more on redevelopment and more strategically about how we run utilities out to places," she said.
But, LaRoque said, this bill does give both sides something that they need.
"Town's still have the ability to annex. The people have a voice. And the free water and sewer provides people an incentive. It allows towns the ability to grow, but to grow with the support of the people," he said. "This was my No. 1 issue that I campaigned on last year, excluding the budget. I have been working and fighting against annexation in Lenoir County for about the last three years.
"Once it becomes law, it will be the piece of legislation I'm most proud of. I think it's really going to help move the state forward."
The bill, which will receive its third reading on Monday, is expected to be well-received in the Senate, Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said.
Although he hasn't had a chance to read the latest revisions -- and so wouldn't speculate if it would pass in its current form -- he said annexation reform is something that has long been on their radar.
"I think it will be looked at with quite a bit of interest," he said.
In the meantime, Bob Pleasants, a resident of the recently annexed Phase 11 area of Goldsboro, said he was glad to see the reform legislation finally approved, and that he hoped it would be a shot in the arm for Sager's House Bill 196, which would de-annex the area of northwest Goldsboro including Falling Brook and Buck Swamp. Currently the bill is sitting in the House Finance Committee.
"One of the things we're hoping for is to get this moved on through because our bill is sitting in finance," Pleasants said. "They couldn't address it until we got this out of the way. Then they'll re-address the ones that are pending."
De-annexation bills for Wilmington, Rocky Mount and other municipalities have been held up in House committees while the budget and the involuntary annexation rules bill have dominated the dockets as of late.
Sager said he expects the bill to move forward next week.
"I'm going to be working like the dickens to get that bill heard in the finance committee and then in the House," he said.
-- Staff writer Ty Johnson contributed to this report.