Annex Reform Bill Heads to House Floor
A proposed bill to reform involuntary annexation came out of the House Appropriations Committee today with an admendment that will give affected residents a vote still intact.
Lawmakers voted last week to postpone voting on the legislation until the House committee had the opportunity to determine how much some of the changes will cost. The bill will now return to the House floor for a vote.
The motion to revert the bill to the Appropriations Committee last week passed 60-59, with Speaker Joe Hackney, who represents one and a half precincts in Moore County, breaking the tie.
The saga of the annexation reform bill is of particular interest in Moore County because of the situation that has developed between a group of Pinewild Country Club residents and the village of Pinehurst.
The Village Council has passed an ordinance to annex the gated community, west of the village limits. The ordinance was scheduled to take effect June 30, but a protracted legal battle in both state and federal courts has put the annexation on hold indefinitely.
Because the legislation would not be retroactive, it would not be applicable to the Pinewild case.
Pinewild resident Doug Aitken, leader of the statewide Fair Annexation Coalition (FAC), said last week he wasn't sure what was behind the move, other than the bill lacked a cost estimate for the added staff and equipment needed for a Local Government Commission to carry out new oversight duties.
Aitken said that unless changes are made to the procedure that would allow residents in affected areas to vote on whether they want to be annexed, his organization won't endorse the legislation.
"If they don't amend the vote feature, then we don't support the bill," he said.
The current amendment allows residents affected by an involuntary annexation to vote on the matter if 15 percent of registered voters within both the existing city limits and the area to be annexed sign a petition seeking a referendum. But Aitken and other annexation foes maintain that the 15 percent threshold would be extremely difficult to achieve in most cases.
Opponents to involuntary annexation have considered a referendum a key component of any effort to reform existing state laws. Aitken said last week that the inclusion of a voting provision in the legislation was a major accomplishment for the involuntary annexation reform movement but argued that the amendment "doesn't practically accomplish much" and has a limited application.
One of the complaints against the bill on the Fair Annexation Coalition Web site is that the voting provision would seriously hinder any attempt to stop annexation.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities -- a nonpartisan organization that represents more than 500 of the state's cities and towns -- is opposed to the bill and a public referendum.
A sample resolution in opposition to the legislation on the league's Web site states: "A referendum will become a vote on municipal taxes and will turn into a veto, thereby ignoring the broader good and health of the entire community and allowing nearby residents to avoid municipal taxes forever, even though they benefit from city services."
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