Council to revisit last annexation study

Published 7:53 am Saturday, February 23, 2008

By Staff
Extending city limits seen as way to grow population, tax base
Contributing Editor
When the Washington City Council holds its annual planning session, the topic of annexation is discussed. This year’s planning session was no exception.
The council, during its planning session Wednesday, decided to revisit the city’s last annexation study. Councilman Doug Mercer would like to do more than just revisit that study. Mercer wants the council to adopt an annexation policy that establishes criteria and guidelines regarding annexation. When areas being considered for annexation meet those criteria and guidelines, the city should annex those areas, Mercer said.
Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said that when it comes to annexation, it may make sense for the city “to do one little piece a year” as a way of “connecting the dots.” By dots, Jennette was referring to several satellite annexations outside the contiguous city limits.
In May, the council learned there are five areas outside the city limits that are eligible to be annexed. Those areas are Tar Heel Drive, two areas along West Fifth Street, part of the commercial corridor along U.S. Highway 17 between Chocowinity and the U.S. 17 bridge at Washington and the Honey Pod Farm-Brick Kiln Road area. The five areas combined have 151 parcels of land.
Those five areas have been identified as possible annexation targets in previous annexation studies, according to city officials.
Council members and the mayor have said annexation is one way to grow the city and its tax base. By increasing the city’s population past the 10,000-persons mark, according to council members such as Mercer and Archie Jennings, the city becomes eligible for more grants and revenue opportunities not available to municipalities with populations with less than 10,000 people.
Before pursuing annexation, city officials want to know if annexation is economically feasible to do so. Annexed areas must be provided certain city services within a specific period of time after they have been annexed. The cost of providing those services may be more than the city can afford, thereby either delaying annexation until it’s feasible or killing annexation plans altogether.
During the council’s planning session last year, Jennings said he understood many people view annexation as a “land grab.”
During an annexation discussion in the fall of 2006, Jennings said he 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 derive from annexation outweigh expenses — such as providing fire and police protection, water and sewer service — associated with annexation.
At its planning session this week, other council members voiced similar viewpoints.
State law provides that a city with a population of 5,000 residents or more may annex areas contiguous to its boundaries if those areas are urban in character according to standards set out in the law. Four methods of enlarging municipal boundaries are available to North Carolina cities: