Let’s Figure it Out with Danny Figueroa

Union County Pulse

Reforms, With No Love from Gov.

How was it possible in Union County you can be forced to live in a town against your will? Before recent reforms, North Carolina was one of seven states nationally allowing barbaric involuntary annexations.  That’s when municipalities absorb unincorporated areas, forcing citizens living in those areas into those municipalities.

Before 1959, annexations were done through the General Assembly.  Effected property owners had the choice to force a referendum by petition. The process became burdensome to the General Assembly, so they gave the responsibilities to the municipalities to provide meaningful services to unincorporated areas. Unfortunately this law had allowed for abuse by municipalities, initiating land grabs to increase municipal tax bases for budget shortfalls.

For example, the city of Fayetteville forcefully took over 27 square miles in an annexation called the “Big Bang”.  The city increased its tax revenue, but to this day annexed residents haven’t received promised sewer services, learning it would be installed in 13 years.

Would you believe the North Carolina League of Municipalities who represent municipalities across the state, has admitted they purposely bypassed areas needing services for areas that could provide more in tax revenue?  This blatant disregard for the law opened the door for even more abuse.

For example, what about cities that used involuntary annexation to exclude black communities, annexing only white? The city of Goldsboro did this in 2001 with a city council member justifying this in a letter to a state legislator.

It reads, “A city that doesn’t grow dies and because of the white flight in the schools, floods and various other reasons, Goldsboro (the city) is not growing, especially our young white families and according to the census, we might even be losing people. Thus the annexation of this area would not only add good tax base to Goldsboro, it would also help us keep our racial make up in check, which in my opinion is very important to our future.”

Checks and balances need to be strengthened in state and federal laws to stop abuse of power such as this.

Another example of abuse happened about two years ago when Indian Trail debated whether or not they should forcefully annex unincorporated areas. Council members openly advocated forced annexation for the sole purpose of increasing tax revenue, not recognizing the law or individual property rights.  Fortunately the council members lost the battle, but property owners should have had the right to choose for themselves.

The good news is reforms now give residents the right to reject involuntary annexations by gathering signatures of 60 percent of effected property owners. When the Village of Marvin targeted areas to be forcefully annexed, over 80 percent of citizens in the targeted area signed enough signatures to stop the annexation.

So why is the League of Municipalities fighting reforms?  Recently they attempted to put an obstacle in the way of reform by approaching the United States Department of Justice, trying to convince them the petition process is a vote.  If that were the case the petition process would need approval by the Department of Justice.

But it isn’t a vote.  When the annexation takes place it’s presumed to happen unless enough property owners oppose it. Only those who oppose the annexation sign the petition and the Department of Justice agreed.

Its laughable The League of Municipalities are trying to make the argument new reforms wouldn’t give a voice to property owners, as if they were showing concern.  For years municipalities didn’t give a signal property owner a voice or choice when they were forcefully annexed.

Annexation reform finally ends the trail of tears for many property owners who fought for the right to choose whether or not they want to be annexed.

Unfortunately reforms didn’t come sooner for many victims of forced annexation, but it’s important to realize they led the fight to reform annexation laws for all.  But that doesn’t end the fight for property rights.  Though this battle is won the war continues.  There continues to be an assault by politicians to limit property rights, and it can only be won if individuals get off the sidelines and join the fight.

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