06/11/12 — City adding $125K to legal budget

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City adding $125K to legal budget

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on June 11, 2012 1:46 PM

The city of Goldsboro's legal bills have ballooned once more in the aftermath of a lawsuit concerning a state law dictating the way municipalities in the state can annex areas involuntarily.

The Goldsboro City Council approved an additional $125,000 for allocation from the unappropriated general fund into the attorney fees line item as part of a $973,500 adjustment to this year's budget at its June 4 meeting.

The law, which was made effective in June 2011, allowed residents in an area proposed to be annexed to reject the move through a 60 percent return of petitions mailed to property owners by the county elections board. Included within that was a provision allowing residents of Goldsboro's Phase 11 area to retroactively deannex themselves.

The five cities directly affected by the legislation filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the law violated the state constitution because it bases the right to vote on property ownership and denies all other city and annexation area residents the right to vote.

The cities won the lawsuit in March, but not without cost.

The City Council voted in November to appropriate $110,000 for legal fees paid to annexation attorney Anthony Fox.

The contract the city entered into with Fox was for $350 an hour, although rates were "subject to change from time to time, without notice."

The ordinance approved then stated that the city had already incurred $80,000 in legal costs at that point. The additional amount approved at the Council's meeting last week brings the total cost for the lawsuit -- which will be made moot when two additional laws go into effect July 1 -- to $235,000 in legal fees this fiscal year, not counting the $130,000 paid to the Everett, Womble, Lawrence and Brown law firm to retain Jim Womble as the city attorney.

During the four-year lawsuit begun by citizens of the area in 2004 claiming the annexation shouldn't be granted, the city incurred $180,720 in legal fees.

Other increases in line items stemming from the budget ordinance include $80,000 and $40,000 increases in the worker's compensation line items in the police and fire department budgets, respectively and $25,000 to go in the Inspections Department's demolition budget.

A $300,000 health insurance claims line item is to be created using money from the unappropriated fund balance of the General Fund, while a $400,000 line item will be established using unappropriated funds from the Utility Fund.

The line item for operational supplies at the golf course will also be increased by $4,500, while the $10,000 allocated earlier this year for handicapped lifts will be eliminated as that feature proved to be unnecessary this year.

The city will also use $9,000 from the Occupancy Tax fund for maintenance expenses at the city's building at 2406 E. Ash St., which was purchased to be the location of a future Air Force museum.

Also on the Council's consent agenda were four conditional use permits.

One granted a permit for an electronic gaming establishment at the Southeast Plaza Shopping Center on the east side of N.C. 111 between Southeast Drive and U.S. 70. Another electronic gaming establishment permit was granted for a facility in Pinewood Square Shopping Center on the east side of Spence Avenue between Royall Avenue and U.S. 70. The establishment would be in the same shopping center as the Spence Avenue Walmart.

A private cemetery was approved for the east side of Piedmont Airline Road between Thel Drive and Piedmont Place along with a permit for Bennett Buildings to sell outdoor storage units on the north side of McLain Street between Oak Forest and Millers Chapel roads.

The consent agenda also contained a provision to establish a rate for wholesale water and sewer customers, as well as ordinances allowing the Police Department to accept tax forfeiture funds from the state and federal governments.

A water sales agreement between the city and Fork Township Sanitary District was pulled from the consent agenda immediately after the council came out of closed session. The closed session was requested for the council to discuss litigation and property acquisition.