Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Forced annexation news story

From The Smithfield Herald:
Selma in legal spat
Property owners say annexation was illegal
By Jordan Cooke, Staff Reporter

SELMA -- Fifteen people irked by the annexation of their homes are asking a judge to overturn the move.

In a civil complaint filed June 7, the property owners say the Town of Selma broke state law when it annexed their lands. Specifically, the complaint says the town ignored population-density requirements in the state’s annexation law. Also, the property owners claim the town annexed their lands solely for financial gain.

Town Attorney Chip Hewitt said the charges were untrue. "We recognize that there is potentially a lot at play here," he said. "But it's our position that we complied with all statutes, that the annexation report detailing the town’s plans is valid and that the court should affirm the annexation."

Hewitt declined to comment further because of the pending litigation.

Chapel Hill attorney Bob Hornik, representing the citizens who filed the complaint, said his review of the annexation revealed some flaws. Specifically, Hornik said, most of the annexed areas failed to pass the population-density test.

Under state law, an area must have "two and three-tenths persons for each acre of land" before a town can annex it. But in one Selma example, 131 people live on 111 acres at U.S. 301 and Webb Street. That's 1.18 people per acre, well below the density requirement.

Also, in its annexation report, Selma essentially admitted to seeking a new revenue source, Hornik said. The report states "that in the first year after annexation, the net financial benefit to the town resulting from the annexation is expected to be in excess of $90,000."

"Generally, one of the things I've seen and others have seen is that too often the annexation power is being used as a revenue-generating device," said Hornik, who also serves as legal counsel to the Town of Hillsborough. "Towns sometimes look for areas where they can extend their municipal boundaries without having to spend a lot of money on additional services. So basically, they get more revenue from property taxes and other taxes that find their way back into the town’s coffers without the town having to spend money."

"I think that's the case if you look at the report in Selma," Hornik said. "When you look at the financial data, it looks like the areas might have been chosen for several reasons, but mostly because the town would get a revenue boost. That’s not uncommon, but it’s also not what the annexation statutes were adopted for in the late 1950s."

Annexation, Hornik said, was designed to extend town services in hopes that residential and commercial growth would follow. His clients wonder what they will be getting for their tax dollars, he said.

"They really believe they're going to wind up getting a bigger tax bill without any significant corresponding perks," Hornik said. "So basically, they would get the burden but not the benefit."

This is one of the issues I have opposed here in Selma. I am not for involuntary annexation except in rare cases. I opposed the annexation then and will do so if I am elected to the town council.

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