Saturday, November 25, 2006

Municipal Annexation, _ why should you care?

When most people are shopping for a home, annexation and how it might affect them is not usually what they think about. The choice of the home does often include a decision about whether the property is in the city or outside of it, but......
Why should you care about annexation?

North Carolina's Statute regarding Annexation include giving cities the power to annex property owners into the city without their consent. When the cities exercise this power, it is usually over the strong objections of the victims.

Often their biggest objection is that they are given no choice.

The property owners that are the target of forced annexation have never voted for the elected officials who are making this unilateral decision about their land and their expenses.
NC Law, as it has been since 1959, gives these property owners no voice in the decision, no standing to negotiate, or power to veto it.
This situation gives the cities no incentive at all to negotiate fair or equitable terms for becoming city residents.

These property owners are often forced to abandon perfectly good septic tanks and wells and pay very high fees and assessments to be hooked up to municipal services.
They are forced to abandon the private businesses that they contracted with for services, and are instead forced to "buy" government services.

A recent annexation by Carrboro caused the affected homeowners to be faced with a bill from the County Water & Sewer Authority of around $24,000. That would be in addition to the private contractor fees to eliminate their private infrastructure and run new lines to the government services, along with the increased property taxes and other city fees.
These were older stable neighborhoods, where many of the homeowners are retired and on fixed incomes. Their lives and financial stability are turned upside down.

This is often the case in forced annexations.
There is no real negotiation with the city to share the costs of forced annexation.
The victims of forced annexation are powerless in this exercise of authority

Unincorporated homeowners hire private business to serve their needs and are satisfied with volunteer fire services and County Sheriff's patrols. They're satisfied with asking LESS from the government in supplying their needs. They're less of a burden on their fellow taxpayers and they helped sustain private industry. Much of their taxes paid end up subsidizing cities.
Yet the proponents of forced annexation call them "free riders"! A dressed up way to demonize them as "freeloaders"!
The annexation victims have paid their County, State and Federal Taxes and have helped contribute to the welfare of all of their neighbors, including the cities. I think it would be safe to venture that cities are given more grants and subsidies from their taxes paid than any other unit of government.
If the truth were examined, it is probably not the unincorporated landowners who are the "free riders" in the equation at all.

The proponents of forced annexation have "talking points" that they give to city officials to repeat when confronted by anyone who questions this power to forcibly annex. It's pure Madison Ave PR spin with little substance.

*The problem of "free riders" (?)

If there are "free riders" to be dealt with, criticism for this state of affairs should be laid at the feet of the municipal governments that make this claim, NOT the property owners living outside of municipal boundaries.

It is in socialist style governments and communes that "free riders" can exist and become a problem, not in a government of individual freedom and responsibility.

It is the shared "public", not the "private", that creates the "tragedy of the commons".

It is the cities themselves that are creating problems by spending tax revenue on "public amenities" that the government shouldn't even be venturing into, like sports venues and recreational and entertainment facilities.

Without the constraints of the market, local governments get into financial red ink with these things. Forced annexation becomes the way to continue subsidizing losing ventures.

* "Orderly growth and sound urban development" ?

Perhaps some Legislators in 1959 came to believe that involuntary annexation would serve that purpose, but as anyone who looks at the way most NC cities are growing, it is hard to see evidence of orderly growth or very much of what many feel is sound development resulting from the cities exercising this power.
Instead, City boundaries are gerrymandered to suit the greed and ambitions of inner city bureaucrats and some developers.
High tax neighborhoods that neither need nor want the services from the cities are annexed against their will while struggling communities in need of urban services are ignored and annexed around. Combined with Extra Territorial Jurisdiction cities have power over landowners while giving them no rights. Whole communities are put into a regulatory limbo that violates American principles. Thousands of people in NC are governed without a vote.

See: Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities

As the cities go unchecked in their power to add new taxpayers and customers for themselves, the roads and schools and water and sewer systems are strained to their limits and beyond. It doesn’t make sense to force households to abandon perfectly good private waste systems and wells and add them to the demand on the municipal water and sewer systems and the health of our rivers.

Forced annexation is used to manipulate racial demographics, as documented by the Cedar Grove Center for Sustainable Communities, and admitted to in court by a Council member in Goldsboro. Goldsboro is a city that needs DOJ preclearance before annexing, yet evidently, not much has changed.

Forced annexation is "dressed up" with other excuses so it can continue.
Proponents like to point to Richmond VA as a failed city due to not having the power to annex, yet Richmond forfeited the right to annex when they tried to use annexation to recapture white voters into the city.

The Richmond case went on for nearly a decade and is chronicled in the book
"Politics of Annexation Oligarchic Power in a Southern City".

Proponents of IA include the NCLM, a lobbying organization for the municipalities, which is funded by tax revenue, claiming exemption from open records laws, while steering policy behind the scenes for municipal powers that harm property owners.

The NCLM, with the help of the National League of Cities, put protection of the power to forcibly annex and regulate property use as a top priority.
These two organizations were actively supporting and involved in the New London Development Corporation/City of New London, against Suzette Kelo and others, in the Supreme Court case that outraged the nation.
They do not apologize for their actions and have clearly established that they are enemies of property rights.
The credibility of the League should be suspect at best when they put forward their defense of forced annexation.

What else do the proponents say about forced annexation?

* "Efficiency of services"?

The Director of the NCLM says "Expanding the existing infrastructure, like water and sewer, rather than building new systems, benefits the majority of taxpayers."

Studies that have been done by and for both sides of this debate do not back that statement up.
The purported reasoning behind this statement is that it is more efficient to have one very large system of infrastructure to serve everyone rather than multiple small units serving citizens.

Can you think of a case where government or government services that have grown larger have proven to be more efficient or less costly?
Ask the Cary taxpayers about their sewer bills.
Many studies have been done on whether regionalization results in greater efficiency for services or representation. Several studies concluded that there was little to no evidence to support this claim. One study found that sewage treatment plants peaked in efficiency at around 10,000 customers. Water treatment systems peaked at 125,000 customers.

National Association of Industrial & Office Properties; "Financing Regional Infrastructure"
Dept. of Urban & Regional Planning; Univ. of Illinois _ "Government Policy & Urban Sprawl"

The debate over the most efficient size of government has proponents on both sides.
Which do you find logical when it comes to government?
One side says that the larger government consolidates services into one provider with more customers and the end result should be cheaper and more efficient. Ignored are the limitations of economies of scale.
While living in Philadelphia, the evidence I saw did not prove the claim of larger being efficient.
The other side states that smaller units of government are closer to their constituents and are responsive to the community. Multiple small units can customize services to the needs and desires of a particular segment. Multiplicity and flexibility expands the choices and options about where to live and what people want to support in "amenities". Competition for "customers" keeps cities efficient and innovative.

Does it keeps the cities “economically balanced” or maintain cities as job centers?

The proponents seem to be playing a shell game with statistics in this claim.
If the cities "capture" higher income taxpayers outside of the city, it doesn't actually change the income of those who live in the city. It just makes the average look better on paper.

If the cities reach out and "capture" employers that chose to locate outside of the city, it doesn't change that fact that they are still outside of the central city. But the city can claim to be a "job center" on paper.

This is manipulation of numbers having no real meaning or substantive change for the citizens inside or outside of the city. City residents are affected by forced annexation because they often have to provide the upfront capital costs for forced annexation and sometimes subsidize part of the cost of extending unneeded services to established areas.

Forced annexation allows cities to "balance revenue distribution"

Think about what this is actually saying and admitting.
This claim is often made along side of the claim that if cities are not permitted to expand geographically they will fail and deteriorate. Is this argument logical?

The proponents are admitting that in order to stay alive, they must be allowed to reach out continuously to "capture" more taxpayers and revenue to "distribute" money from the outskirts to the center. Proponents thmselves use the word "capture" when they advocate this idea.
Often, the city is trying to finance amenities that the "captured" have little interest in or don't need.

All cities will reach a limit of outward growth sooner or later. Are they doomed to fail then? If this is true, should we allow cities to reach enormous proportions and then deal with the inevitable failure?

Wouldn't it be far better to limit the size of cities to smaller, less costly failures?
Or is the real problem found in a failure to manage municipal finances in a responsible manner?

Is forced annexation enabling cities to be fiscally irresponsible? Rather like someone with a stolen credit card? Are the city officials being enabled to view their surrounding neighbors like a "money tree" in their back yard?

*Forced Annexation Maintains a High Bond Rating ?

Think about what this is saying!!
It's no wonder though, that the proponents claim that forced annexation keeps the cities bond ratings high. When a bond issuer can see that a city can just reach out and add more taxpayers at will to pay the debts, of course this would make these cities look like less of a credit risk Does that make it the right thing to do?
Imagine how good your credit rating would be if you could claim as many of your neighbors assets as you wanted as future revenue that can be tapped at will.

Isn't it enough for the cities to be able to annex willing landowners to increase their tax base?
Is it necessary for cities have the power to annex unwilling landowners also?

Hundreds of homes that were affordable before annexation suddenly become unaffordable at the whim of the nearby city. Then the city officials wring their hands about the lack of affordable housing in their municipality, created most likely by their own policy decisions.
People have always been able to buy more for their money in land and home outside of cities and this has been a benefit to families with limited resources. It has meant the difference between renting and buying, between private access to land where their children can play instead of cramped quarters and unsecure public spaces for their children. The cities should not be allowed to take this opportunity, that is part of the American Dream, away from people.

Neighborhoods that are targeted for forced annexation are often older established neighborhoods. There may have been a time when many housholds outside of cities had no indoor plumbing or electricity, but those days are behind us for the most part. Old and new technology has made it possible to live far from cities and be self sufficient while enjoying a very modern lifestyle. Dependence on city living for modernity or even jobs is evidently becoming obsolete.
The justification for extending municipal services is narrowing down to being simply a way to support higher and higher densities. The very thing that people move from the cities to get away from.

The worst abuse of the power to annex at the cities discretion is the fact that the neighborhoods that cities seem to want are the ones that don't need the "urban services".

The neighborhoods that the cities annex around are often the ones that do need the services.
Too often agressive forced annexation is used to wage border wars with neighboring cities.
This is abuse of power.

It's all about the money and power. It's about the power and money.
Not what the cities can do for the property owners.
It's what the city wants to force the property owners to do for it.

As long as municipalities have the power to make city residents out of unwilling landowners by force, every homebuyer needs to care about annexation.

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