N.C. House panel declines to endorse annexation referenda

In what may be a harbinger for next year’s General Assembly, a House committee Wednesday debated – but declined to endorse – a measure that would let voters use referenda to block forced annexations.

While the measure applies to the town of Kernersville, bill opponents said other lawmakers likely would attempt to add their towns and cities in the years ahead if the bill became law.

That’s fine with the bill sponsor, Rep. Michael Decker, R-Forsyth. Legislative rules hindered the proposal from covering the entire state.

“Annexation is actively taxation without representation,” Decker told the House Ways and Means Committee, of which he is a co-chairman. “The vote of the people is the most precious right we have.”

Decker’s measure would let Kernersville residents file a petition seeking a vote for or against the wishes of town leaders to forcibly annex unincorporated land. Fifteen percent of the voters in an affected area would have to sign the petition. Otherwise, there would be no vote and the forced annexation would continue as scheduled.

North Carolina allowed similar annexation referenda before the Legislature eliminated them in 1959.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities – out in force at the Legislative Building for its members’ lobbying day – said the bill would set a terrible precedent.

The league said the 1959 law and subsequent changes lay out a uniform method for towns and cities to annex unincorporated areas that have reached a certain population density.

“Bills like this sound good, but this would be a big step backward,” said Ellis Hankins, the league’s executive director. “Those annexation statutes have served the entire state very well.”

Catherine Heath, a Wake County resident who supports the measure, said it would force officials to promote the municipality to county residents.

Greensboro Mayor Keith Holliday said people living on the outskirts of large cities don’t want to join a town because that requires them to pay a higher property tax. But those people should pay their share of services that they use within that municipality, he said.

Kernersville’s town aldermen signed a letter opposing the bill. Mayor Larry Brown, who is challenging Decker in the July 20 GOP primary, says he would try to change the current annexation law if elected.

The committee voted 5-7 against a motion that would have forwarded the measure to the House Finance Committee. At least three Triad-area committee members voted against the measure, whose future looks bleak.

“I sort of feel left out of the process,” said Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth.

The North Carolina chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, an anti-tax group committed to limited government, has said it will make annexations its leading issue during the 2005 legislative session.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say we ought to do something about annexation,” said Rep. Arlie Culp, R-Randolph, a committee member who voted to move the bill.