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County residents protest Ahoskie annexation

AHOSKIE – The feeling was mutual.

At a public hearing held here Tuesday night, potential future citizens of Ahoskie spoke in unison, all vigorously protesting the town’s plans to annex four areas – Colonial Acres, Ahoskie-Cofield/Willoughby Road, NC 561 East (Harrellsville Highway) and NC 42 West.

“If it were me, I would take into consideration what other people want…you are not, your minds are made up,” said Harrellsville Highway resident Jay Hall, addressing four members of the Ahoskie Town Council and Mayor Linda Blackburn at the 75-minute public hearing held at the Hertford County High School cafeteria.

Hall continued, “I feel sorry for ya’ll. You don’t have any sympathy for these people. Ya’ll make me ashamed to be from here.”

Another possible future citizen, Roy Munden, threatened to put his Colonial Acres home on the market and move back to Virginia Beach.

“My wife and I retired here and we love it here,” Munden said. “We wanted to live out our years here. But I can’t see paying double taxes (county and town). I can’t see paying for services I don’t need. If this annexation is approved, my house will go on the market and we’ll move back to Virginia Beach.”

Mark Casper said being inside the town limits never crossed his mind when he purchased his home on NC 42 West four years ago.

“If I had wanted to live in town, I would have purchased a home in town,” Casper stressed. “Arthur Lee Wiggins (Ahoskie’s late Mayor), God rest his soul, would have never put us through this.”

Colonial Acres resident Bob Royster warned others living just outside Ahoskie to beware of possible future annexations.

“With this annexation, Ahoskie will grow to over 5,000 citizens,” Royster noted. “For towns with populations that exceed 5,000, the rules are a bit easier to annex. So those who were displaced outside of town after Hurricane Floyd, those living on the Johnny Mitchell Road, back behind the Highway Patrol station and those in other little enclaves, look out, they will lower the boom on you in the future.”

Royster added, “We don’t need the town in Colonial Acres…nothing you’ve got to offer. Leave us alone.”

Bobby Beard, another Colonial Acres resident, approached the issue from a financial standpoint, saying that the town would invest $7 million in this annexation.

“The news is telling us that 28,000 Americans are losing their jobs every day…the nation is in debt,” Beard said. “No one has checked to see if these 330 families (affected by annexation) can pay this money back. This $7 million is on us, those paying town taxes, to pay back. I’m afraid we’ll have to pass this on to our grandchildren to pay back.”

Dennis Whitehead, who resides on the Harrellsville Highway, said the tax burden is unfair to senior citizens, like him, living on a fixed income.

“I don’t have a lot of money…I can’t afford to pay these new taxes,” Whitehead stressed. “I don’t need police protection. I don’t have any problems with my water and sewer. I just want to live in the country. The things you are offering are worthless to me.”

On the other side of the coin, Lynn Stalls said the majority of those residing in Colonial Acres, like herself, can afford to pay the new town taxes.

“But what you’re not giving any thought to are those who can’t afford to pay them,” Stalls said. “You (town council) know we can afford this in Colonial Acres. That’s what this is all about, you want Colonial Acres.”

Chuck Munford suggested that Ahoskie officials need to take care of the present needs in their town.

“You need to take care of your streets and the problems with abandoned homes before you take anything else on,” said Munford, a resident of NC 42 West.

Hertford County NAACP Chapter President Carl White attempted to speak at the public hearing. He was denied as Mayor Blackburn, laying the ground rules prior to the hearing, said those addressing the issue were limited to residents or property owners living within the proposed areas to be annexed or Town of Ahoskie citizens. When asked if he was either, White said, “no.”

White had expressed an earlier concern in regards to the annexation possibly diluting the voting strength of minorities.

However, Mayor Blackburn called on Town Attorney Larry Overton to address that exact issue prior to the start of the public hearing. Overton, using numbers provided by Will Best of the NC Department of Commerce, said town council members and the Ahoskie Mayor are elected by votes from an at-large, District A and District B format. He said the new numbers, including those residing in the possible areas of annexation, would see the at-large minority voting percentage increase (54.3% to 58.5) and also see a hike in District B (76.1% to 77.2%). The District A numbers would decline slightly (44% to 42.3%).

Mayor Blackburn told the crowd that the town must first adopt the annexation ordinance prior to asking the US Department of Justice for pre-clearance on any changes within the local elections process.

Town Council is expected to vote on an annexation ordinance during their 10 a.m. meeting on Nov. 4. If approved, the annexation will take affect on June 30, 2009.