RALEIGH – North Carolina law places few limits on cities and towns seeking to annex property owners by force. That’s the key message in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report that targets 10 annexation myths.
“The annexation statute goes out of its way to protect municipalities,” said report author Daren Bakst, JLF Legal and Regulatory Policy Analyst. “Despite hollow claims to the contrary, the statute imposes few requirements on municipalities. Meanwhile, citizens fighting forced annexation can be thwarted by little-known procedural rules and large legal expenses. There is something wrong with this picture.”
Bakst issued his findings as the General Assembly considers a one-year moratorium on forced, or involuntary, annexation. The N.C. House Finance Committee voted 25-4 this month to approve a moratorium through June 30, 2009. The House Judiciary II Committee could consider the same moratorium bill again Tuesday.
“As lawmakers decide whether they support a moratorium, this report shows how the entire forced annexation process created by the annexation statute is a sham,” Bakst said. “In examining the rules for municipalities of 5,000 people or more, the report shows that municipalities can basically do whatever they want when it comes to forced annexation.”
Some myths involve non-existent restrictions on forced annexation, Bakst said. “For instance, some people believe a community cannot be annexed unless it meets certain density requirements,” Bakst said. “There is a slight problem with these claims — they are inaccurate. There is no such requirement.”
A similar myth suggests that cities can forcibly annex only “urban” areas, Bakst said. “A municipality can annex areas that are ‘non-urban,’” Bakst said. “It can even annex undeveloped land. For example, if a municipality is separated from an unincorporated urban area by undeveloped land, the municipality can annex the undeveloped land, in many instances, so that it can grab the unincorporated urban area.”
Other myths are linked to processes that supposedly protect people against forced annexation, Bakst said. “Some forced annexation apologists say property owners targeted for forced annexation get a timely, reasonable notice of the proceedings,” he said. “In fact, a municipality can pass an annexation ordinance within 70 days of passing a resolution of intent to annex. Once affected property owners get notice of the initial resolution, they have at best 50 days notice before the ordinance is passed.”
Those property owners can complain during a mandatory public hearing, but Bakst says that hearing “may be the biggest sham of the entire law.” “Before an annexation, the municipality has no obligation or relationship to the affected property owners,” he said. “The affected property owners have no way of holding municipal leaders accountable. As a result, there is absolutely no reason that a municipality would care what the affected property owners have to say about an annexation. The hearing turns into a pointless venting session.”
One annexation myth involves provision of city water and sewer service to newly annexed residents. “Some people think a municipality must provide water and sewer within two years of an annexation,” Bakst said. “That’s true only if affected property owners are paying close attention. An obscure detail requires the property owner to submit a form requesting water and sewer within five days of the annexation public hearing.”
“If the property owner fails to meet that unpublicized deadline, he might not receive city water or sewer for well over a decade,” he added. “Thousands of property owners in Fayetteville are dealing with that problem now. ”
“Municipalities rely on citizens being unaware of this requirement,” Bakst said. “As seen in Salisbury where an annexation was dropped due to an influx of requests for water and sewer, municipalities do not want citizens to request water and sewer.”
Bakst’s report also exposes myths about annexation of “non-contiguous” areas, the links between municipal property taxes and promised municipal services, the impact of city animal ordinances on newly annexed property owners, financial requirements for cities and towns seeking annexation, and the options for property owners to fight forced annexation in court.
Some city leaders argue that they shouldn’t be penalized for the actions of municipalities that abuse the annexation law. “Abuse of the law is not the real problem,” Bakst said. “Most municipalities comply with the annexation law, but that compliance doesn’t mean anything. Complying with a law that requires little to nothing of you is nothing to boast about. If you want to end forced annexation abuse, you need more protection against abuse built into the law.”
Daren Bakst’s Spotlight report, “Ten Myths of the Annexation Process: The truth is, N.C.’s annexation law lets municipalities run wild,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Bakst at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].