Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Annexation Reform Blueprint & a Quiz

Getting ready for tomorrow's meeting of the Joint Commission Studying Municipal Annexation has gotten some help today from Daren Bakst, the Legal Analyst at the John Locke Foundation.

Daren's 'Blueprint for Annexation' policy report has been published online today. You can find it here and take a look at the ideas for reform that Daren outlines and backs up with the extensive research he has been doing on the issue.

After you read the report, consider sending Daren an email and let him know what you think about the report.
Then follow up that email to Daren with an email to the Study Commission members telling them about the 'Blueprint' along with your thoughts about it.

There is also a one day Quiz about annexation that Daren has started online at the JLF 'Locker Room' blog. Daren has the first two questions posted now and will be posting more as the day goes along. See how well you do with the questions about NC annexation laws while you get ready for the Commission meeting tomorrow.

If you cannot attend the meeting tomorrow, you can listen to the meeting live by going to the General Assembly website 'Audio' page and opening the audio link for "Appropriations Committee Room (Rm 643)".

The meeting starts tommorow morning at 9:30 am and is scheduled to last until 11:30 am. If you can attend or listen live, and you care about annexation reform, please do listen to this meeting. The more people we have who hear for themselves how this issue is being discussed by the Commission, the better it will be for the effort to reform the laws during next years' Legislative Session.

Thanks to ALL who have written to the Commission Members!

Cathy Heath

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Joint Annexation Study Commission 12/17 meeting

The next meeting of the Joint Commission to Study Municipal Annexation is scheduled:



Members of the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Municipal Annexation

Senator Vernon Malone, Co-Chair
Senator R. C. Soles, Co-Chair
Representative D. Bruce Goforth, Co-Chair
Representative Paul Luebke, Co-Chair

Meeting Notice:
Due to the short time frame before session, any member that has recommendations they would like to present to the committee must do so on the 17th.

The Joint Legislative Study Commission on
Municipal Annexation will meet on the following date:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Room 643 Legislative Office Building

December 5, 2008

I hope that all of you who want to see NC Annexation Law changed have been writing, calling, and emailing the Joint Commission Members, letting them know what you want them to change about the annexation laws. http://www.stopncannexation.com/Joint_Committee.htm
Taking the time to do this is very important.

There are too many Legislators on the Joint Commission who think forced annexation is a good thing for North Carolina and the cities. The cities told them it was true, so they believe it.
These Legislators clearly haven't heard enough yet from the citizens who disagree. They need to hear a lot more from the citizens to balance out the years of repetition that they've heard from the cities.

If you can make it to Raleigh to attend the meeting on the 17th, that would be a real good way to emphasize the points you made in your previous communication with the Legislators. Think of your presence at the meeting as a visual underline and bold to what you wrote or said to them before the meeting. I wouldn't count on being able to say much more to them at this meeting. It doesn't look like the citizens are going to be given any other chances to weigh in about what needs to change. The meeting is only two hours long.

At the December 4th meeting, Chairman Malone became anxious to quickly adjourn the meeting soon after Professor Lawrence finished his presentation. He seemed more worried about getting to lunch on time than continuing any real discussion of the annexation issue. He also made it very clear that the December 17th meeting was going to be the "last call" for the members to weigh in with proposed changes. As you can see, this warning was repeated in the Official Notice of the meeting. There won't be much time to listen to all the members on this Commission.

A good number of the Senate Legislators on the Commission seem to be a bit bored with the excercise of holding these meetings and didn't have too much to say on the 4th.
It's almost like they don't think they really have any work to do.

Could it be that all the work has been done, or will be done, outside of these meetings?
I'd say yes.
And the rumors are going around from people closer to what's really going on that the Chairs are planning to meet with League Officials on the 16th.
I'd say the League has already had their private session with some of these Legislators and have given them the "approved" changes for the Commission to recommend.

Here is my “crystal ball” prediction on the final recommendations.

The final recommendations (as the Senate side will propose) are going to:
  1. Require all cities to adopt long range “Annexation Plans” like Charlotte and Raleigh currently use.

  2. Require all cities to offer amortized financing terms for water and sewer development charges.

  3. Tighten the statutory language that the cities ‘get around’ in order to annex narrow strips of land.

  4. Set up a State fund to help all cities pay for the water and sewer infrastructure when they annex low income/minority areas.

Recommendation 4 works nicely with the mission of the 'Institute for Emerging Issues' that the NC League of Municipalities helped establish at NCSU and now promotes.

The NCLM is really expanding their reach and influence into more and more aspects of government and policy all the time.

I'll report more on that another time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Annexation Study Commission Meeting

The first meeting of the Joint Commission to Study Municipal Annexation held this morning was quite interesting.

I arrived just before the start of the meeting. When I stepped out of the elevator and turned toward the meeting room, I saw people overflowing out of the double doors. When I walked into the meeting room it was standing room only and most of the people attending were citizens dressed in the signature red attire.

There were plenty of city officials and bureaucrats, but they were far outnumbered by the people who would like to see the municipalities reined in and stopped from abusing taxpaying property owners across North Carolina. These citizens included familiar faces of some who have been in this battle against forced annexation for many years, like Walter Murphy from Fayetteville. Today they were joined by some of the new faces of the latest victims of the horrible law, including the homeowners from Oak Level being annexed against their will into Rocky Mount.

The meeting itself turned out just as I thought it would in many respects. The Chair, Senator Malone, started the meeting by stating that there would be no time given to the public for comments. The meeting was going to be devoted to David Lawrence's presentation explaining the Annexation Statutes. It was an "informational meeting only" for the Senate members who had firmly declined at the end of the session in 2007 to be a part of the study that many House members wanted.

I talked to David Owens on that day in 2007 to try to find out why the Senate was refusing to endorse the study. His explanation was that the Senate remembers the last time annexation was studied and they didn't want to go through that again. All the time it took up! All the people beseiging the legislature about the issue! Not again!!

Funny how they remembered that much about the last study, but they now need a refresher course on the General Statutes that they are responsible for. It was apparently real important for them to hear David Lawrence from the School of Government explain annexation law to them again for the umpteenth time.

Kind of looks like an excuse to blow some of the extremely limited time this Commission has to examine what is actually going on in the real world of forced annexation. Hey! I have an idea! Just give our side a decent chance to tell them what's wrong with it and how to fix it.

But on the subject of someone speaking up about what's wrong with the law today, there were quite a number of the Commission members who weren't shy at all about laying the problems out on the table.

Larry Brown, Nelson Dollar, and Trudy Walend fired the opening salvos with questions for Professor Lawrence. They had questions about how other States deal with annexation; how NC cities are using annexation like a weapon against neighboring cities with the property owners being used like pawns. Questions about how the cities are providing (or not) water and sewer and other services. Rep. Walend tried to get Lawrence to explain the "five day window" that citizens have to submit applications for hook up in order to make the city bring the lines all the way to their property.
Lawrence was clearly trying to answer the questions "diplomatically" and Larry Brown 'called him out' on that. It looked to me like Lawrence was being very careful not to answer in a way that might upset the city lobbyists. He dodged any mention of the five day window until Larry Brown pinned him down on it. Go Trudy! Go Larry!

Nelson Dollar brought up the Nolan vs. Marvin case where the NC Supreme Court decided that annexing cities should actually have services to offer. Larry Brown brought up the problem with cities that really don't have significant "urban" services to offer being able to forcibly annex. He mentioned the other case that the Nolans took to court when Weddington also tried to annex their land.

Doug Aitken brought up the issue of what the members of the 1959 Study [that recommended giving cities the power to forcibly annex] were saying about the reasons to do it that would justify overruling the property rights of the citizens. This led to more interesting talk about provision of services and how much things have changed since 1959. Back then, only the cities were providing water, sewer, and zoning. Now we have Counties and special authorities providing these things and more. Dependence on cities for modern services is obsolete and it's time the cities face up to it and the legislature adapt State law to that fact of life.

Professor Lawrence ended up saying "I don't know" quite a few times during that meeting.

Lawrence was asked to explain the role of the Local Goverment Commission. That ended up being quite interesting and worthwhile.
Lawrence explained how NC is unique in having the 'LGC' as guardians of the fiscal health of the cities. He explained how the LGC was created during the 1930's depression when NC cities were going bankrupt. He gave the LGC the high credit for keeping the cities bond ratings high.

Yes, that's right, it is the fact that NC has the LGC providing fiscal oversight that keeps those city Bond Ratings high, _NOT forced annexation, (which represents a fraction of the growth of the cities). Having a few 'city initiated' annexations blocked by the property owners would not likely have a impact on the bond rating.

McCarley, Wegner, and Soles made feeble attempts to spin the discussion more in favor of the cities, but it wasn't working. Foriest tried to explore the possibly unconstitutional idea of establishing a pro-rated tax structure to make up for any delays in service provision.

The two County officials on the Commission, Grainger Barrett and Tina Hall, stepped up to the plate and threw some pitches toward the negative affect of city annexations on County revenue. This is where Wegner tried to shoot down the idea that it affected County balance sheets at all, but Ms. Hall came back and quickly put that attempt in it's place. Go Tina!

After all of this, I can tell you that the really good stuff was saved for last. In the end, Earl Jones spoke up and said that he'd like to see some statistics about the fiscal health of cities in other States where forced annexation is not an option. He wanted this data so the Commission could move past that and get down to doing the work of addressing the House Committee's concerns about protecting and restoring the property rights of citizens. YEAH Rep Jones!

Rep. Goforth seconded Rep. Jones comments and pointed out that the Commission needs to "get on target" because their time to do anything is short. YEAH Rep Goforth!
(Message to Goforth and Jones: We, the affected citizens, feel so marginalized in this debate that we strongly suspect that the final recommendations of the Commission have already been written. We'd like to help you change that.)

Chairman Malone was ready to wrap up the meeting and get out of there after that. He told all the members that they had better attend the next meeting because if the didn't their input would not be included in the final recommendations. Sounds pretty final to me. Dec 17th and "that's all folks!" was the message sent.

Larry Brown had the final suggestion of the day. He recommended that the Commission move the Dec 17th meeting to the auditorium or somewhere larger that would accomodate more of the public who want to attend. YEAH!
Stay tuned and you might want to plan to add yourself to the fun at that meeting.
Although I don't think that more three minute comments are going to add much to the debate, a large crowd hanging over the Commission's shoulders would definitely be _as Ms. Stewart says_ a "good thing".