Bill would allow forced annexation of ‘doughnut holes’

The Stop NC Annexation Coalition has issued a “heads up” to annexation opponents concerning a bill to allow Wake County to forcibly annex areas considered to be “doughnut holes.”

H.B. 486 Wake Municipalities/Doughnut Annexations would allow municipalities in Wake County to forcibly annex so-called “doughnut holes,” areas that municipality has surrounded by annexation.

In 2011, the General Assembly approved a bill to require municipalities to conduct a referendum to allow affected residents to vote on annexation. Previously, the law allowed for a petition signed by 60 percent of affected-area landowners to halt the forced annexation.

“The stealth erosion of the new annexation laws has begun,” said Cathy Heath, StopNCAnnexation Coalition director.

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Forced annexation ends

Forced annexation is now history in North Carolina. Gov. Beverly Perdue allowed H.B. 845, the Annexation Reform Act to become law without her signature. The key provision of this bill allows property owners in an affected area to stop a forced annexation if 60 percent of the property owners sign a protest petition. The bill would also require municipalities to provide free water and sewer hookups for property owners in the proposed annexation area.

“This represents a huge change to a very bad law that was a blemish on the State of North Carolina,” said Cathy Heath, director of StopNCAnnexation. “This is a change of historic significance.”

StopNCAnnexation was formed eight years ago by a Wake County group fighting a forced annexation with a mission to use the internet to organize citizens across North Carolina into a cohesive effort, to assist each other and convince the legislature to end forced annexation.

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Annexation reform bill passes House

The state House passed an historic and sweeping annexation reform bill, culminating years of work by grassroots groups seeking to have their rights restored.

“This is one big step in an historic direction toward the restoration of the rights of property owners in city-initiated annexation,” said Cathy Heath, director of the StopNCAnnexation Coaliton. “When the Senate passes this bill, it will be a momentous occasion in North Carolina.”

H.B. 845 passed by an overwhelming vote of 107-9. The North Carolina League of Municipalities, a taxpayer-funded lobbying organization for muncipal governments, which for years has thrawted any annexation law reform did not actively oppose the bill. Reform supporters believe that is because the NCLM feared that if this reform did not pass, another bill putting an moratorium on all forced annexations would.

Heath said the success of this seven year effort shows that when enough people come together for a common cause and can commit to however long it takes, they can accomplish good things. The bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to pass it quickly.

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State Senate approves annexation moratorium

It is now up to the state House whether or not North Carolina will impose a moratorium on municpal annexations. The state Senate approved the moratorium March 7 in a 36-12. Forced annexation opponents see this as a very important step toward ending the abuse once and for all.

“The new legislative majority has been moving quickly and decisively on the issue of forced annexation on some important fronts,” said Catherine Heath, director of the StopNCAnnexation Coalition. Both the state House and Senate are considering annexation moratorium bills and there are several bills to repeal or suspend forced annexations.

Senate Bill 27, Involuntary Annexation Moratorium, is sponsored by Senators Andrew Brock (R-Davie) and Phil Berger (R-Guilford), the Senate President Pro Tem. “Senator Brock has done an outstanding job of explaining and defending this bill in committees and on the floor,’ said Heath. A similar bill introduced in the House by Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), HB9, hasn’t moved past the first reading on the floor where it was referred to the House judiciary committee.

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Wake commissioners give towns power over county property owners

While opponents of forced annexation are hopeful the new Republican majority in the General Assembly will enact meaningful annexation reform, Republicans on the Wake County Commission recently extended the power of two municipalities to control private property in areas near the towns.

Only one Republican, Paul Coble, voted against granting extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, to the towns of Wendell and Knightdale. That means that more county property owners will be subjected to the planning and zoning ordinances of the towns, even thought they don’t get to vote for town leaders or participate in town government.

ETJ is designed as a prelude to annexation. The idea is to allow the town or city to prepare the rural area as it transitions from rural to urban development. In supporting the recommendation, county planning board chair John Miller told the commissioners, “We are not in transition, but past the transition from rural to urban.”

In practice, however, most municipalities given ETJ authority never annex the areas. Annexation instead is used selectively, not for the supposed purpose of providing services but in order to bring in revenue.

In other words, if a town or city is strapped for money it takes over affluent surrounding neighborhoods in order to get more money through property taxes. Areas that will not bring in significant property taxes are ignored, resulting in “doughnut-holes” and a patchwork pattern of municipal boundaries.

Predictable, the only people speaking in favor of the ETJ requests at the public hearing were town officials and professional planners. In contrast, those who spoke against ETJ were citizens passionately pleading in defense of the right to use their own property which provided their very livelihood.

“My husband died on that land,” said Sue Puryear, who has lived outside Knightdale since 1958. “They might just as well have put a knife in my heart.”

Sarah Tant, a dairy farmer near Zebulon, told commissioners she lost half the calving season because of the blasting for a nearby planned subdivision that still hasn’t been built. “They destroyed my house,” she said. Tant, 75, said she and her family have lived and raised cattle on the 100 acres farm her entire life.

James Dunn, who farms outside Knightdale, said that nearby areas taken under ETJ still haven’t been developed. “If you ‘ETJ-ed’ these areas in, let the growth come there,” he told commissioners.

Commissioner Stan Norwalk, a Democrat, dismissed their pleas with the typical excuse, justifying the action as needed for “the orderly growth and expansion of our municipalities within Wake County.” That’s statist speak for “we know better than you how you should use your property.”

Republicans will gain control of the commission in December, when Phil Matthews replaces Democrat Lindy Brown. Brown voted against the ETJ measure.

Meanwhile, forced annexation opponents are optimistic that Republicans in the General Assembly will act more favorably to protect property rights. “I do believe there are now leaders in place who are committed to annexation reform,” said Doug Aitken, president of the Fair Annexation Coalition. He said he and other forced annexation opponents have met will some legislators who are drafting a new annexation reform bill.

One of the meaningful reforms opponents of forced annexation advocate is to give the people in the area target for annexation the right to vote on the annexation. They would also require municipalities to provide promised services such as water and sewer as soon as they are annexed and without additional cost to the people being annexed.-