07/08/11 — City retains attorney for annexation query

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City retains attorney for annexation query

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 8, 2011 1:46 PM

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City officials have retained an attorney to examine Goldsboro's options in connection with the decision to allow de-annexation in the Buck Swamp/Salem Church Road area.

Residents of the Buck Swamp and Salem Church Road areas who thought their quest to be removed from Goldsboro's city limits ended with the General Assembly's decision to allow the area, known as Phase 11, to be deannexed pending a petition might be ahead of themselves.

The City Council Tuesday approved a resolution authorizing the mayor and city clerk to engage in a legal services contract with Parker, Poe, Adams and Bernstein, a law firm with offices in Raleigh, Charlotte and another four offices in South Carolina.

The retaining of the lawyer will allow the city to examine its options in light of the legislature's decision, city officials said in a press release.

Interim City Manager Tasha Logan received a letter from Anthony Fox, a partner in the law firm, on July 1 indicating that he would be the attorney largely handling the case, with other attorneys under his supervision assisting. He advertised his rate to the city as $350 an hour, although the standard terms of engagement, which were attached, indicated that "our hourly rates are subject to change from time to time, without notice."

Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen expressed concern at that term of engagement, which he said made it seem like the attorney could hike up his rates for any reason. Despite the inclusion of "without notice," however, City Attorney Jim Womble assured Allen that there would be notice given before the rates changed.

A press release from City Hall stated that the city's total investment in the Phase 11 area amounts to more than $4 million, which paid for fire hydrant, street signs, sewer equipment, trash collection vehicles and refuse bins, plus the hiring of police officers and other support staff. It also notes the debt payments on the $8.6 million in bonds issued to fund the sewer project.

This won't be the first time the city has acquired legal representation in fighting the deannexation of the Buck Swamp area. Residents sought legal help to block the initial annexation of their properties in 2004 and spent about $170,000 in legal fees in the lawsuit, which concluded when the state's supreme court refused to hear the case, upholding a decision by the appellate court. The city's total bill for legal services rendered during the proceedings was $180,720.

The line item for legal services, which is contained within the Mayor and City Council's budget, is appropriated for $130,000. In fiscal year 2010-11, that figure was the full budget amount appropriated for retaining the city attorney.

Finance Director Kaye Scott said that if the funds in the line item were exhausted, a budget ordinance would need to be approved to appropriate more money for legal services.

The annexation went into effect on Sept. 30, 2008, but a clause in the General Statutes stipulating that sewage lines must be installed within two years of the annexation's effective date led Rep. Efton Sager (R-Wayne) to file a bill in the House seeking the deannexation of the area. City officials have said the lawsuit prevented the lines from being installed in time.

The city's view on the deannexation law, as cited in resolutions and press releases, is that the law seeks to overturn a legally enacted municipal decision.

Bob Pleasants, who has emerged as a spokesman for the residents of Phase 11, said Thursday night that he was not aware of the city's decision to hire a lawyer for consultation, nor did he have any idea what the city planned to do, whether seeking to challenge the law's legality or compensation for funds spent on the area's improvements.

"It doesn't sound like they know what they're going to do either," he said.