Lawmakers, advocacy groups close to compromise
If Union County towns prove they can provide necessary services to outlying areas, the state will sign off on their plans for involuntary annexation. That’s the focus of a compromise bill making it’s way through the General Assembly, as lawmakers work to avoid a long term moratorium on the involuntary practice.
To date, lawmakers have filed five bills to reform or restrict the forced annexation authority of municipal governments; from small towns like Marvin to major cities like Charlotte. Since 1959 when forced annexations were first allowed, landowners unwilling to join the towns could only file a lawsuit and leave the decision up to a judge. The practice is one the North Carolina League of Municipalities has long endorsed, with the group opposing any type of ban, along with many of the counties and towns it represents.
“Our cities and towns do not want to see a moratorium on all annexations this session,” NC League of Municipalities Director of Governmental Affairs Kelli Kukura said. “We believe that is crippling to balanced growth and the economy, not to mention unfair in that near town residents also benefit from the city and should be paying a fair share.”
The League had previously opposed any type of bill that puts restrictions on involuntary annexation, arguing that was a process towns should be allowed to continue doing. However after looking at some of the other options being proposed this session, including one bill that would force towns who fail to meet the annexation requirements to dissolve, Kukura said the League is willing to support a compromise, in order to move forward.
“We believe (HB845) may be the best we can do to avoid a moratorium this session,” Kukura said. “From what we understand, the bill will be extremely restrictive on cities and towns and will have a significant cost burden, but (it) would be better than not being able to annex anywhere.”
House Bill 845 would force any town looking to annex property to prove it can provide services the people in that area currently don’t have. That includes any type of police or fire protection, street maintenance or trash collection. In cases such as the recent annexation attempts by the village of Marvin, since the would be residents already get police protection from the county, showing that the village has a contract deputy wouldn’t count as a service. In order for the annexation to be approved, the village would have to show additional benefits it could provide.
The town of Weddington pulled out of a forced annexation in 2010 after facing a similar situation. The annexed property would have included Chatsworth, a subdivision off Providence Road; the neighborhoods of Victoria Lake, Hawkstone and Hampton Fare. A survey of the residents showed 70 percent had no interest in joining Weddington, saying they didn’t see any new or improved services offered. Sheriff’s deputies patrol those areas, and various fire departments and emergency medical services answer calls.
“I support a comprehensive approach to involuntary annexation” Representative Craig Horn said, “I believe that [HB] 845 as written can pass and its a bill that will be acceptable to all the people I represent in Union County”.
The bill would also remove the authority of towns with populations of less than 5000 people from conducting forced annexations and require those cities of sufficient size to provide a timeline for when services would be provided. In the case of water and sewer services, each town would have to provide services within a three and one half year window.
“This bill will stop Marvin and other municipalities” Horn said, “from just grabbing land, with nothing to offer [to property-owners].”
To many of the 24 new freshman representatives in North Carolina House, like Horn, reforming the annexation laws was an issue they campaigned about. Horn said he strongly supports the property-owners of the Walden Pond subdivision and others, who are opposed to the Village of Marvin’s annexation of 14 subdivisions along the New Town Road corridor. The property owners are waging a legal battle which is currently before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
When asked about the Marvin annexation, Horn felt that Marvin cannot provide the level of services the bill requires and should the Village prevail in court, that he [Horn] would move to have the annexation struck down. “I have been assured by the [House] leadership that we will be able to protect the property-owners of Walden-Pond from being annexed”, Horn said.
House Bill 845 is currently in front of the Rules Committee, where revisions have already swelled the bill to 17 pages from the original five.