JERRY JONES: N.C. Should Tweak Its Annexation Laws
This is reprinted with permission from The News & Observer of Raleigh.
Annexation is perhaps the most difficult and complicated process that municipal officials carry out, both from the technical and the political perspective.
When a city council decides, after careful study, to annex because an adjacent area has developed to urban standards and residents need municipal services, those residents sometimes complain. They don't want to be annexed and they are frustrated about the process. The process itself is lengthy and can be confusing, especially concerning requirements for delivery of services.
The General Assembly gave cities and towns annexation authority in 1959, and the laws have been studied and revised several times since. This authority has been an essential tool in managing growth and ensuring that cities and towns remain vibrant and financially healthy. Without it, we would have many more towns and other governmental jurisdictions, with duplication of services at higher cost and more difficulty in meeting citizens' needs.
No state has more municipalities rated AAA by the bond-rating agencies, and strong bond ratings lower the costs of borrowing for capital projects. We know that annexation authority is one reason that our cities and towns have maintained their economic vitality. We stand strongly in favor of the general principles of the annexation laws that have benefited North Carolina citizens for nearly 50 years.
Yet we understand the concerns of those being annexed. For the past two years, in a number of settings, we have listened to these complaints. We heard and we went to work to address those concerns. We have brought these suggestions to the Joint Legislative Commission on Municipal Annexation, which is charged with studying the law and reporting its findings and recommendations to the 2009 General Assembly.
We are proposing changes in these areas: water and sewer; procedural changes; changes in what areas may qualify for annexation; and ways to encourage annexation of economically distressed areas where residents may need and want municipal services but cannot pay the capital costs for such services.
Here is an example of our proposed changes.
One of the most confusing parts of the current law is about extension of water and sewer services. If you live in an area being considered for annexation, there is a public hearing before the city or town council early in the process. Current law requires that just five days after that hearing, you must request water and sewer extension to your property if and when you are annexed.
If you don't request it then, the city or town does not have to extend water and sewer services to your individual property within the two-year time period required for other municipal services. (Rather, the city or town has to put in the major lines and provide water and sewer service to you on the same basis as it does to any other part of the city.)
The reason that citizens must request water and sewer service within a specified period of time is that the city must estimate the cost of providing that service to comply with the annexation laws, and it needs the information for planning purposes. But people need clear, understandable information about this requirement and more time to decide this matter and file the petition.
We suggested many other changes, including: clarifying and codifying definitions so that narrow spokes of land and highways cannot be used to connect to a city-initiated annexation area; allowing more time to challenge an annexation in court; and allowing more time to seek remedies if services are not provided.
We suggest incentives for annexation of low-income or distressed areas in need of water and sewer services by tying the annexation to grants, perhaps priority points for a Community Development Block Grant, Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant or other state grant.
In developing this proposal, we worked to be fair to those who in live in cities and towns, those who live nearby, and all North Carolinians. We want to solve any genuine problems with this law and ensure that annexation will continue to benefit this state and its citizens.
Jerry Jones, Morehead City's mayor, is president of the N.C. League of Municipalities.
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