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Ahoskie battles proposed moratorium

AHOSKIE – A moratorium on municipal annexation, currently under study within a state legislative sub-committee, has the potential to severely impact the town of Ahoskie.

The study committee, by a 10-2 vote, has recommended that the state should temporarily ban municipalities from involuntarily annexing areas so lawmakers can consider changes sought by some residents. If approved upon reaching the State House floor during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, the one-year moratorium would run through June 30, 2009.

That time frame comes at a most inopportune time for Ahoskie as the town is currently in the midst of annexing several areas. Additionally, the town has launched a $15 million expansion project to its wastewater treatment plant. The property taken in by the planned annexation will help subsidize the cost of the expansion project.

“This (moratorium) will be devastating to small communities like ours,” Ahoskie Town Councilman Ronald Gatling said Tuesday morning during the regularly scheduled meeting of the board. “We need to let our local (state) representatives know that we are opposed to this.”

Gatling went on to suggest that if the proposal moved along in the State House, some sort of language needs to be included that exempts towns already involved in annexation plans, like Ahoskie.

“This will affect us financially,” Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said. “We need to lobby (State) Senator (Ed) Jones and (State) Representative (Annie) Mobley to help us with this issue.”

The General Assembly would have to enact legislation imposing a moratorium, but it doesn’t become law until signed by the governor.

The purpose of the moratorium is to give state leaders time to study reform within the way municipalities perform annexation.

Involuntary annexation opponents say the state’s laws are outdated and that oftentimes the desire to annex is purely monetary and that residents in annexed areas pay higher taxes and receive little or no added benefits.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Ahoskie Council approved a resolution in support of sound, fair and uniform municipal annexation statutes. That resolution states that municipalities are authorized to annex areas adjacent to the current town limits using strict, specified circumstances and standards.

“Orderly growth through annexation provides a means for cost effective provision of needed municipal services,” the resolution read. “Annexation allows municipalities, on behalf of their residents, to ensure that those who benefit from municipal services and their proximity to a municipality help pay a fair share of the cost of those services and benefits.”

Currently, Ahoskie officials are involved in annexing four areas contiguous to the town limits. Those areas include Colonial Acres, North Catherine Creek Road (north of Malibu Drive), NC 561 East (Harrellsville Highway) and NC 42 West.

In January, Will Best of the NC Department of Commerce/Division of Community Assistance presented an update of the proposed annexation and provided an analysis of each of the four areas under consideration.

Best informed council members that the next step in the annexation process would be to collect data in order to perform a cost analysis. That financial data will assist Ahoskie officials in determining the feasibility of annexing property weighed against the costs of providing town services to those new citizens/businesses. From that point, the Town of Ahoskie may choose to adopt a resolution of intent (to annex) any or all of the areas now being studied.