The annexation debate

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.

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10 Responses

  1. “So, I’m nudged toward thoughtful but involuntary annexation to support the rights of my current constituents. It ain’t easy.”

    Which rights of your constituents are referring to? How do they supersede the rights of those not in the city?

    Would it not be a better course to correct the issues that push you towards choosing forcible annexation. You have the opportunity to make those of us who live near the city allies instead of enemies.

    Show us that you will fight these injustices, and we will stand beside you. Show us that you wish to perpetuate these injustices, and we will stand against you.

  2. “Constituents” are the people who elected me. They have rights accorded them under NC law, including the right to annex adjacent land. We have been fighting to correct the underlying issues for many years. I very much detest the way state legislators put City officials in the middle.

    And by the way, while I am nudged, I am not decided. I’m listening to everyone involved, studying the laws, the issues, the map. The conclusion is not foregone, and like any other reasonably intelligent human being I am able to absorb new information and modify my perspective.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    • I understand, and I am just trying to nudge back.

      First, I flatly reject your assertion that city residents have the right to annex adjacent land. The state derives its power from the people, and therefore can not grant a right which the people did not have in the first place. The state can only codify the rights of the people into law.

      Second, It is not the fault of county residents that Asheville has the problems you noted. If it were up to us we would happily correct them in order to avoid annexation.

      Finally, if Asheville is being treated unjustly why perpetuate the injustice instead of fighting to stop it? And, if you perpetuate it wouldn’t you be condoning it?

      I understand you have to look out for the best interests of your constituents, but there comes a time when you just have to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost.

  3. Yeah, and that’s the rub. What’s “right” is different for people in different circumstances. It would be great if there were an iron-clad rule book, I guess.

    And as for happily correcting the problems – I would guess that there is no rule which prohibits county water users from doubling their payments for water – even if the City is prevented from demanding that. Hmm. I wonder if a contractual agreement could be fashioned in which all of the water-users in a community promised to pay double in exchange for a promise from the City to not annex.

    • On the water issue I know that Asheville is required to charge the same rate to county residents as city residents, but is that also true of the capital fee. It seems like the actual cost of consumption would be basically the same, but the additional cost of county residents would be due to the cost of maintenance, and upgrades.

      Could that capital fee be used in a way to have county residents pay for the additional costs directly? So, for example: If Asheville identifies a need to replace a line out to my neighbor hood the cost of that maintenance would be divided out among all my neighbors over 5 years?

      If so the city could then determine an maintenance cost threshold. All repairs/upgrades below that threshold would be paid by the city with no cost to the residents, but any amount above that would be passed on. This would translate into most repairs in the city carrying no additional cost to residents while work in the county generally would.

      Just thinking out loud here, and it may not even be possible to work with that capital fee, but it seems like something along those lines might be the best way to work around the issue.

  4. i believe there IS an iron-clad rule book… the US Constitution, which only grants certain & specific powers to the government. there’s also that little document called the Declaration of Independence, which states the truth — that each and every individual is endowed with unalienable rights, which no other can justly usurp… unfortunately, our governments at all levels have ignored these truths.

    just because there is bad & corrupted legislation at the Federal or State level, doesn’t mean the Asheville authorities and individuals have to abide by it. (this week, i’ll be sending you and the entire Council a letter addressing another similar issue which myself and apparently others are facing in our community.)

    Cecil, government is broken and as an elected official, it’s your job to fix what is broken when you run across these problems.

    if NC wasn’t one of 4 states which allow for forced annexation, we all wouldn’t be having these arguments. blatantly, forced annexation is WRONG – PERIOD! you know it, and really, so does everyone IF they decide to be honest.

    but let me ask you, how long do you think tyranny will continue to grow in this country before the line in the sand is actually drawn? do you really not see it coming?

    and which side of the fence will you be on? the side of tyranny, or liberty?

    i hope and pray that the masses of Americans will continue to wake, because unless the poli-tyrants begin to repent of their tyrannical actions against liberty, the future of this country simply does not look pretty.

  5. Bernard, I wish the issues were as cut and dried as you make them appear.

    What do people who benefit from an asset owe for maintenance of that asset? It is beyond question that Asheville is the economic engine for Buncombe County. A large number of county residents work here. Many businesses located outside City limits are dependent on the City in one fashion or another. Most county residents shop in Asheville, at least some of the time.

    It’s all well and good to pretend that it is tyrannical for one small city within one large state is exerting excessive power if it chooses to apply state-mandated annexation rules, but that is to pretend that any piece of the modern world exists in isolation. We are interconnected, yet our out-of-date political boundaries often permit pretense. (As when some people posit that immigration policy is somehow independent of trade policy, international banking and globalism.) We are all in this together, and the best solutions will come when we find ways to work with that instead of taking libertarian positions based on imagined independence. None of us in modern technological societies are independent any longer.

    • “We are all in this together, and the best solutions will come when we find ways to work with that instead of taking libertarian positions based on imagined independence. None of us in modern technological societies are independent any longer.”

      Why do you believe that Libertarianism equals Isolationism? Just because Libertarianism is based on the individual does not exclude the possibility of cooperation. It does however exclude the possibility of forced or coerced cooperation in which only one party agrees to the terms.

      Forced annexation is the city setting the terms for county residents whether they like it or not. If the city wants to grow it should have the consent of the people to be governed. Anything less is a violation of our rights.

      With all that said I do agree that the best solutions will come when we find a way to work with each other, but as long as forced annexation is a possibility you will get no cooperation from county residents.

  6. Cecil,

    I would gladly have my water rates doubled in exchange for not being annexed. The new taxes and fees would be AT LEAST $110 a month. Plus having to bow to the city of Asheville’s whims and rules. The net savings in dollars would be at least $65 a month. Not having to deal with Asheville…PRICELESS.

  7. I made up my mind on this annexation because Council has voted to offer tax subsidies to developers who build affordable or work-force housing. It makes no sense to me to offer incentives to wealthy developers on the one hand, and then raise the taxes of people already living in work-force housing – which represents a large percentage of the homes in Royal Pines. (I oppose tax holidays for developers, but that has become Council and state policy.)

    As for Libertarianism, I have opined in public that most Libertarians are Republicans who smoke dope, just as Greens tend to be Democrats who smoke dope. (This is a laugh line, and obviously an over-generalization.) But where Libertarianism fails, in my view, is in its embrace of the idea that corporations will behave if left alone. Pollution is not something one does on one’s own property, and government regulations are critical—just as one example.

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