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Council makes annexation concessions

AHOSKIE – Someone was listening.

On the heels of an emotionally-charged public information session hosted by Ahoskie officials on Tuesday evening where plans were discussed concerning the annexation of 330 parcels in four areas around the outskirts of town, members of the Ahoskie Town Council approved two “citizen-friendly” measures on Thursday morning during a special called meeting of the board.

In a unanimous vote, council members agreed to not charge the new town residents with water/sewer connection fees as well as delay the effective date of annexation until June 30, 2009.

At Tuesday’s information session, Ahoskie’s potential newest citizens expressed great concern over the connection fees, priced at $965 (water) and $600 (sewer). They were also upset that, with a Dec. 14, 2008 effective date, their first town tax bills would be for 18 months since the town’s fiscal year begins in July.

“I recommend the town assume the costs of the connection fees and delay the effective date of annexation until June 30 of next year,” Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said. “I think this will create good will (between town government and the new citizens).

Councilwoman Elaine Myers wanted to confirm that those now out-of-town residents already hooked into the town’s water/sewer system would not face those new connection fees, if implemented. Hammond said they would not.

“This (waiving the connection fees) will cost us a couple of hundred thousand dollars, but we’re already obligated for nearly $4 million to extend water and sewer to the annexed areas. We’ll just have to add that to our costs.”

With Thursday’s approval, the town will now be responsible for purchasing and installing all water/sewer lines to the annexed areas as well as picking-up the connection fee/meter costs. However, the property owner will still be responsible for connecting their residence to the meter.

As far as delaying the annexation’s effective date, Hammond informed the council that meant the town would lose six months of levying property taxes (if the date had remained at Dec. 14).

“Do we want to burden these citizens with an 18-month tax bill right off the bat,” Hammond asked council members. “Again, this is a measure of good will on the town’s behalf if you decide to wait until June 30 to start levying the tax. If we do wait until then, then those new citizens will be on the same, 12-month property tax cycle as everyone else in town.”

The delay means those new citizens will not begin receiving town services until June 30, 2008.

“That does give us some more time, some breathing room, to prepare to extend town services to the annexed areas,” Hammond noted.

Also on Thursday, council members approved holding another public information meeting, this one set for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 6. They also okayed a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on Oct. 21 for annexation.

Due to the overflow crowd that jammed council’s meeting room on Tuesday, both the Oct. 6 and Oct. 21 meetings will be held at the Hertford County High School cafeteria.

“I think by moving those two meetings back from their earlier dates will give the public more time to study all the data concerning annexation,” Hammond noted. “That data is changing; as a matter of fact we just had some new data come in this morning.”

Hammond said all the newest data was available in PDF form on the town’s website (www.ahoskie-nc.org). Those without computers can view the data at the Town Hall during normal business hours.

Also concerning the annexation issue, council members re-adopted a resolution of intent and approved an amended report at Thursday’s meeting.

The annexation ordinance will come before the council on Nov. 4. If approved, the ordinance comes into effect that day. That fact prompted a question from Myers who, citing possible North Carolina General Assembly action in April of next year in regards to a statewide annexation moratorium, wanted to know if that would affect Ahoskie.

“Once you adopt the ordinance, it’s officially adopted, no matter the effective date of the annexation,” Hammond replied. “If the state imposes an annexation moratorium, they can’t undo what we have already legally done before that time. If they try, then that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Hammond also said he would address other issues heard at Tuesday’s meeting, including areas of woodland and farmland in the annexation plans that may be exempt. Hammond said those exemptions must be certified by Hertford County government. If they are deemed exempt, the town will not provide services to those areas, but Hammond stated they will be part of the town limits in regards to possible expansion/development.