Published 8:05 pm Monday, April 28, 2008

By Staff
over annexation
In North Carolina, opponents of forced annexation may have cause to celebrate, if only for a year.
A N.C. House of Representatives committee wants to temporarily ban the state’s cities and towns from forcing annexations until the General Assembly can recommend changes to annexation laws. Those laws allow cities and towns to force outside areas into their jurisdictions. The committee is proposing a one-year moratorium on involuntary, or forced, annexations.
That movement likely will get the attention of Washington officials, who broached the subject of annexation during their annual planning session earlier this year. If a moratorium is imposed, it could delay any forced annexations the city is considering.
On Wednesday, a special House committee voted to ask the entire House to consider a moratorium on annexations through June 2009. Such a moratorium would require approval by both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Mike Easley’s signature. As expected, the N.C. League of Municipalities opposes the proposal.
It’s going to be an interesting wait until legislators make a decision about the matter.
In recent years, the number of people complaining about having little or no say about being annexed into cities or towns has increased. Their complaints, to some degree, are understandable. Plainly put, annexation is unpopular.
Almost eight years ago, Good Neighbors, a North Carolina-based grassroots group that works for annexation reform, filed a lawsuit that challenged North Carolina’s annexation system. The organization was formed after Wilmington in 1995 formalized plans to annex many neighborhoods in New Hanover County.
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the group June 10, 2002.
That didn’t deter the group. It launched a campaign to persuade the General Assembly to make a sweeping overhaul of the state’s annexation laws.
Municipal officials acknowledge the state’s annexation procedure makes it fairly easy for a city or town to annex land.
In February, the City Council decided to revisit the city’s last annexation study. Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer would like to do more than just revisit that study. At the February meeting, Mercer recommended the council 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.
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.
That’s one reason small cities and towns like annexation.
When he was city manager in 2002, R.L. Willoughby said people who live near a city and what it offers — and don’t want to be part of it financially are being unrealistic.
Willoughby said then that it is understandable why someone who has a well and septic system and lives in an area targeted for annexation sees no need for city water and sewer services — or to be taken in by the city.
But someone with an aging, or failing, septic system may view annexation as something positive, Willoughby added. Being able to tie into the city’s wastewater treatment system could be attractive to that person, he explained.
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.
Jennings is right, unless the General Assembly says otherwise. That shouldn’t happen.