Seeking ways to grow

Published 5:31 am Sunday, January 28, 2007

By Staff
There’s an axiom that goes like this: If you don’t grow, you will die.
Often, that proverb is applied to a town, city or state. And as with many axioms, there is truth in this one.
In a document she distributed to Washington City Council members and other city officials, Mayor Judy Meier Jennette posed this question: “How can we be frozen at 9,600 people for more than 25 years?” That question is related to an issue that Jennette wants herself, council members and city officials to discuss at their annual planning session set for Feb. 1-2.
That question is evidence that Jennette understands that Washington must grow to survive. But Jennette’s question raises other questions.
What kinds of growth should the city allow?
Where should specific types of growth occur?
Who should determine what is acceptable growth and what is not acceptable growth?
If there are costs associated with growth, who should pay those costs?
It’s up to the mayor, council and city officials to answer those questions and develop strategies to go along with the answers they come up with.
Some people would prefer the city not change, fearing a loss of Washington’s “small-town atmosphere.” Others believe the city can — and must — change and retain that atmosphere. Then there’s another group, albeit a small one, that would like the city to return to the way it was 40 or more years ago.
The council has said it wants to take the “smart growth” approach to growing the city. It’s asked Beaufort County to do the same, but county officials have not yet adopted the approach.
Smart growth isn’t the only tool in the city’s arsenal when it comes to growth.
The document Jennette distributed broaches the subject of annexation as a way for the city to grow. Jennette and the council know that annexation efforts likely will run into fierce opposition. They also know that annexation, depending on the area being considered for annexation, may not be financially feasible. They also know the state’s annexation laws, as they are written now, make it fairly easy for the city to annex land.
During a meeting in October 2006, council members talked about annexation.
Councilman Archie Jennings also considers annexation a way to increase the city’s tax base and enable the city to grow. Forced annexation should happen only if benefits the city would receive from annexation outweigh expenses — such as providing fire and police protection, water and sewer service — associated with annexation.
Councilman Darwin Woolard has said annexation is a way to equitably spread costs associated with city services among those who use those services. Current city residents “should be tired of paying for services” used mostly by people who live outside the city, Woolard said in October, referring to use of the city’s Brown Library and parks-and-recreation facilities by non-city residents.
Jennings concurred, saying it’s an “unfair burden” on city taxpayers to foot the bill for services used by non-city residents who don’t pay for those services or who don’t pay their fair share of the costs associated with providing those services.
Some people may disagree with their views, but Jennings and Woolard are right. Annexation is a way to ensure non-city residents pay their share of costs associated with providing city services or programs they use.
As the city explores “smart growth,” it must take a close look at annexation. Perhaps annexation in conjunction with new residential and commercial development can provide the growth needed to not only keep the city alive but make it prosperous, too.