05/18/12 — Senate to eye annexation issue again

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Senate to eye annexation issue again

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 18, 2012 1:46 PM

The state Senate has dusted off a House bill from last year that could result in the deannexation of the Buck Swamp and Salem Church Road areas of Goldsboro as early as July 1.

The General Assembly convened this week. Although the "short session" is concerned chiefly with fine-tuning the state budget, Republican lawmakers have promised to take up the cause of city residents who feel their annexation should be deemed invalid.

The Phase 11 area of Goldsboro, along with eight other areas around the state either annexed or planned to be annexed, would be removed from their respective city's limits if House Bill 5 becomes law. The Senate amended the bill this week to also call for the repeal of last year's session laws regarding annexation reform.

Those laws dictated that all involuntary annexations would be subject to a petition process, whereby residents of any territory being considered for annexation could reject it if 60 percent of property owners in the area returned petitions mailed out by the county's board of elections.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger vowed earlier this year to find other legislative means to free the annexed areas if the cities continued their legal suits against the state over its annexation reform laws.

That law was deemed unconstitutional in a ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Shannon Joseph in March, with the plaintiffs in the suit -- the cities at risk of being denied expansion -- arguing that the law based "the right to vote on property ownership" and that it denied "all other city and annexation area residents the fundamental right to vote."

The ruling came a day before the Wayne County Board of Elections was scheduled to officially count its petitions, preventing the petition process from completion.

The newest version of HB 5 seeks to deannex the areas without the use of petition or referendum, Rep. Efton Sager of Wayne County said today, in an effort to prevent the law from being subject to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- the federal law upon which the judge based her ruling.

The bill, which would also prevent the annexation of the affected areas for 12 years, was approved after its second reading. Sager explained that the third reading is generally a formality, so he expects the bill to be passed back to the House, where concurrence would land it in the House Government Committee. A favorable finding from that committee and another approval in the House would make it law.

Because the proposed legislation is a local bill, it does not require a signature from the governor.

The law would go into effect July 1.

The repeal of the reform law doesn't mean the Republican-led legislature is done altering the state's annexation process, Sager added.

"What we're taking care of first is the involuntary deannexations," he said. "We're not done with annexation at all. We disagree with the (court's) interpretation, but rather than to have it tied up in courts, we decided to amend the law so we can start over."

Sager said the Legislature will take up the annexation bill in earnest in the coming weeks although appropriations meetings and budgetary discussions will likely dominate the calendar.