Local Politics

Legislation limiting forced annexations advances

Posted July 27, 2009 3:52 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is one of a half-dozen states where residents have no say when a city wants to annex their property, but legislation recently approved by the state House would put an end to forced annexation.

House Bill 524, which passed last week and is now under consideration by the Senate, is designed to give property owners subject to a proposed annexation a greater voice in the process. Under the bill, if 15 percent of the registered voters in an area targeted for annexation sign a petition, a referendum on the proposed move could be held, with voters in both the city and the targeted area eligible to cast ballots.

"I think that the bill is excellently crafted," said Fayetteville City Councilman Bill Crisp, who was among about 43,000 people forced into that city during a 2005 annexation known locally at "the Big Bang."

"It is a travesty what Fayetteville did. I'm vehemently opposed to forced annexation," Crisp said.

Forced annexations have traditionally targeted wealthy neighborhoods while shunning low-income areas with greater need for city services, he said.

"They reach into the pockets of affluent citizens for tax dollars without having to give them much," he said.

More than a dozen other bills were filed this year to change annexation procedures, including one that would have placed a moratorium on annexations.

Supporters of House Bill 524 fear it could die in the Senate, where other annexation-related bills have failed in recent years.

The bill already has drawn criticism from both sides of the issue.

The statewide Fair Annexation Coalition opposes the bill, saying 15 percent is too high a hurdle for a referendum. Supporters of a vote would have a year to gather signatures on their petition.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities also is against the bill, saying in a written statement that requiring votes on annexations "will lead to the effective elimination of annexation as a tool to manage this state's growth."

Crisp said North Carolina's annexation law is unconstitutional and needs to change.

"This is what the Boston Tea Party was all about – being taxed without representation – and that's the same (issue) we have with forced annexation," he said.