Annexation reform bill, supported by Union legislator, passes General Assembly
Before moving forward with any involuntary annexation plans, Union County towns now have to prove they can provide new services to the affected area. That comes after the full North Carolina General Assembly approved House Bill 845, signed off on one final time by the House Thursday, June 16. Previously, landowners had to go to court to fight any annexation efforts. Now the burden falls on the towns to prove they can offer additional services, not already provided.
The bill calls for towns to prove they can provide “police protection, fire protection, solid waste collection and street maintenance services on the effective date of annexation.” The town has to extend water and sewer services to each lot within three and a half years of annexation. If the Local Government Commission determines the town failed to provide these services, then the annexation fails. Also, if at least 60 percent of the population in the unincorporated area sign a petition opposing the annexation, then it fails.
“North Carolina needs annexation reform,” Rep. Craig Horn said. Horn, who supported the bill, said he feels forced annexation hasn’t always been fairly or even reasonably applied.
“The key word is forced,” Horn said. “I believe it incumbent on cities and towns to work with the citizens to provide the needed and wanted services so that they come together voluntarily.”
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.
“People come together for a variety of reasons; first and foremost of which are mutual protection (and) public safety,” Horn said. “People with mutual interests come together to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals. It is the responsibility of leadership to clearly define these goals and to educate and motive the citizenry.”
All sides accept compromise
The final version of the bill is something most parties in the annexation dispute have come to accept.
The practice of forced annexation 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.”
Had a compromise bill not been accepted by the end of the session, the General Assembly planned to institute a ban on involuntary annexation, the same as had been in place since 2008.
“Craig Horn and Tommy Tucker have worked long and hard with legislative leadership and the bill’s sponsors to see that the bill covers folks like us in the courts,” unincorporated Union County resident Paul Schneider said. Schneider lives in Walden Pond, a subdivision the village of Marvin had targeted for annexation, despite opposition from residents. In the latest court proceedings, the village had removed Walden Pond and other opposing residents from its annexation plans. Schneider said he’s thankful for support from state and local lawmakers.
“Support from our wonderful Union County Board of Commissioners was also helpful and we appreciate them very much as well,” Schneider said.
County commissioners passed a resolution supporting HB845 earlier this year. The bill’s passage is one step, Horn said, adding that there was more work to do.
“HB845 is not the ideal answer,” Horn said. “There are certainly provisions in this bill with which I do not fully agree. But, taken in the overall, it was the best deal we could make at this point. This issue will stay alive and I shall stay involved.”