Bath needs to

Published 10:25 am Sunday, November 16, 2008

By Staff
add some land
If Bath’s residents want their town to have authority over vast swaths of the surrounding countryside, they should annex some land. Call it plundering, if that makes it more palatable to the historically inclined.
Right now, the town is working to revamp its planning board after complaints that residents of the town’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction aren’t fully represented on the board. The ETJ is a ring of land around Bath that the town controls for planning purposes.
Right now, the planning board is made up of five members from the town and two from the ETJ. The town appoints its members, and the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners appoints the ETJ’s.
The new setup has to be proportional, under state law. Bath has about 300 residents, no one is really sure how many ETJ residents there are, but there are vastly more than 300.
The Town Board of Commissioners has asked the town’s staff to draft a proposal that would create two planning boards.
One board would hear only town matters and consist of only town residents.
Another board would hear any matters that impact the ETJ, even if some in-town property is involved. It would include some of the members of the town planning board and the correct proportion (read: a majority) of residents from the ETJ.
The two-board setup would be an improvement, because it would allow residents of the ETJ to effectively control zoning decisions that impact their land, but it still wouldn’t be fair. Town residents would have some say in what happens in the ETJ, while residents of the ETJ would have no say over what happens in the town at the planning board level.
In fact, even if ETJ residents were given a majority on a unified board that heard all proposals, they would still be getting the short end of the stick, because much of what the Bath Planning Board does is simply advisory to the Bath Town Board of Commissioners, where ETJ residents have no representation at all.
The Town Board is under no obligation to listen to a single thing the Planning Board has to say. In fact, we praised town Commissioners last week for significantly reworking a Planning Board proposal for new zoning rules in the town’s business districts.
ETJs exist because people moving to a town’s outskirts will influence the development of the town itself, use town services and likely ultimately be annexed into the town.
But that arrangement presupposes that towns grow. Bath has spent the last 300 years not growing, geographically.
The town is considering cutting out some of the ETJ. That would help cut down on the ridiculously large majority ETJ residents will surely have on a new planning board and get Bath’s collective nose out of some places it doesn’t need to be.
But a better solution would be to incorporate more people into Bath.
The town would benefit from growth because it would have a larger tax base to draw on and would have full authority over the areas in question. And the ETJ’s residents would benefit because they would have a voice on the Town Board as well as planning authority over their own land.
There are three main arguments against this idea: The move would change the town’s historical composition. Newly annexed residents could exercise a commanding majority if they were to vote as a group. And the change could lead to higher taxes for the newly annexed.
But the growth would not make the old town any less historical. Blackbeard would still have hung out there. The town would still be a former capital. The town would still be our state’s first town. The change would add things to the town, but it would take nothing away.
And we are mightily unsympathetic to the cry that townspeople, the same townspeople who currently exercise significant power over the property rights of many who have no vote in the town, would suddenly become a minority.
And ETJ residents shouldn’t run from any increase in taxes. They would have a strong voice on any board that passed taxes, and they already enjoy many of the amenities in the town that those taxes would go to fund.
It’s time for Bath’s residents to stop their well-meaning pillaging of others’ rights and get everybody sailing on the same sloop.