Reading the Rolling Stone interview with Barack Obama, I was struck by his observation that the only problems that land on his desk are the difficult ones. The easy stuff, he noted, is all solved before it reaches him.
While City Council is a long way from the White House, and while we do routinely address many easy issues (usually in the Consent Agenda), the important decisions we make are the ones that haven’t been resolved by statute or Staff work, and they can be very difficult.
Annexation is one of those tough choices. On the face of it, involuntary annexation seems blatantly unfair—all else being equal, people ought to be able to vote on whether or not their property becomes part of a city. Unfortunately, the question of equal treatment under the law is a tangled web.
•Asheville, unlike other cities in North Carolina, is prohibited from charging more for City water delivered outside City limits. (Other cities charge 1.5 to 2.5 times the city rate to outside customers.) So City residents are forced to subsidize water delivery to outlying areas.
•Asheville, unlike other cities in North Carolina, receives no money from room taxes. All room taxes go to the Tourism Development Authority.
•Asheville receives a far lower portion of sales taxes paid in the City than do all but two other (very small) NC cities.
•Asheville has the largest percentage population influx per day of any city above 50,000 in the state. Hence our emergency services response demand is higher than any other city in the state, per capita.
The only tool offered to Asheville to level the playing field for its current taxpayers is to forcibly annex adjacent communities that meet certain state mandated requirements. People who live near the City often avail themselves of City benefits (water, jobs, shopping, recreation) and require City services (roads, sidewalks, parking, police and fire, etc.), but aren’t part of the tax base. That means City taxpayers are effectively subsidizing their near neighbors.
There are strong arguments against annexation as well. The City is fairly accused of not yet providing full service to areas annexed in the past, and of not offering any meaningful improvements in service to Royal Pines and its surrounds. (A neighborhood south of Asheville that is the immediate target of proposed annexation.) Lower fire insurance rates, putatively better public safety patrols and garbage collection (versus private hauling) are of some benefit, but net costs will go up. That’s a particularly tough issue for those on limited or fixed incomes.
If all of the other elements were fairly apportioned, many people would voluntarily seek annexation (for lower water rates, for example) but that isn’t the way the game is set up in North Carolina. So, I’m nudged toward thoughtful but involuntary annexation to support the rights of my current constituents. It ain’t easy.
Filed under: Development |