Tryon annexation effort may be dead

Published 9:58 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

by Jeff Byrd

Tryons long, painful annexation effort may now be a dead issue.

Both new members of the Tryon Town Council who will take office next Tuesday, Wim Woody and Doug Arbogast, appear ready to join with councilman Austin Chapman to call off the towns legal battle.

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The town voted in February 2008 to annex 638 acres surrounding the town, an area with an estimated 406 residents. The annexation effort began earlier in 2006 with a plan, rescinded in January, 2008, involving much of Lynn.

In both cases, the town was sued by area residents who joined together in a group calling itself Citizens Against Forced Annexation (CAFA). The case is set to be heard in February.

Wim Woody and Austin Chapman ran on a platform strongly against annexation in 2007. Chapman won. Woody lost, but ran again and was the top vote getter with 180 votes last month. Total town turn-out was 25%.

Also elected this year was Doug Arbogast, who stated no position on annexation during his campaign. After winning last month, Arbogast initially said he supported the previous councils analysis of the need for annexation.

However, this week he informed Mayor Alan Peoples that he had changed his mind.

With Arbogasts vote, the majority is now apparently in favor of rescinding annexation, with only councilman Roy Miller remaining in support. Councilmen Jim Scott and Dennis Durham, who both ran this year, were not re-elected.

Annexation has been a contentious and divisive issue for entirely too long, Arbogast said in a prepared statement released Thursday. (See the full statement.)&bsp; Well-meaning parties on both sides have fought and stuck to their guns not because they were stubborn, but because each side passionately felt it had Tryons best interests at heart.

Public hearings over the issue in 2007 and 2008 were as heated and divisive as any public meetings ever held in Polk County.

This is an issue where neither side has been entirely wrong, or entirely right for that matter, Arbogast said. In fact, it is my opinion that the core interests of these two groups are not that far apart. Literally everyone simply wants the town we all call home to be a better, more vibrant, more fiscally secure community.

So how do we enable that to happen most expeditiously? he said. We all need to come together and work on the same side for a change. The step I am personally taking to this end is to announce that I will be voting to withdraw from the current suit and end this battle once and for all.

Arbogast last week issued a call in the Bulletin for residents of the town and residents of the proposed annexation area to share their opinions with him regarding annexation. He asked those in the annexation area first to stop by Town Hall and calculate the actual dollar amount they would have to pay under annexation and he set a Dec. 31st deadline to receive responses.

In his letter to the mayor on Dec. 8th, however, Arbogast said he had made up his mind already after discussions with Tryon Town Manager Justin Hembree, Town Attorney Bailey Nager, Woody, Chapman and the leadership of CAFA. He said he received many emails from those who voted for him and residents of the annexation area.

I can count, so far, on one hand the pro-active, pro-annexation people in town, and those are not from email responses, he told Peoples. I would be for it (annexation) under different circumstances and in a different time.

Arbogast said he was concerned about the current economy, and the effect upon home sales in the annexation area when potential buyers are informed that the homes there may be annexed.

Furthermore, he said, he feared the annexation effort was hurting the towns businesses and the fight in court would go on too long and cost too much.

People in the proposed annex area refuse to come to town and shop, Arbogast said. The CAFA group vows to continue to fight to the State Supreme Court. After talking with (town attorney) Bailey (Nager), I feel it could linger several more years and cost much more.

In addition, Arbogast told the Bulletin, he believes the proposed sewer system for the higher elevations of Gilette Woods would not be able to be built on time or on budget.

Arbogast said Town Manager Hembree indicated as much.

I dont want to say he is misinterpreting what I said, Hembree said. I do know that it is very rare that utility projects come in on time and on budget.

Arbogast said it was his understanding that if the sewer system was not built within a specified number months after the annexation took effect, the town could be sued again, and that, he said, would be a disaster for Tryon.

Mayor Alan Peoples, who helped to recruit Arbogast to run for office, was very disappointed in Arbogasts decision.

It is a travesty, he said. I hope this hasnt set the town up for financial failure.

Councilman-elect Wim Woody, however, was pleased to hear Arbogasts announcement.

I would be very pleased with that decision, Woody said. Perhaps councilman Roy Miller will make the vote unanimous. We can put this devisive issue behind us.

Councilman Chapman said he remains convinced that Tryon has better options, and he too would support a motion to rescind the annnexation ordinance.

I have been opposed to forced annexation ever since the subject became part of this towns policy, Chapman said. I remain convinced that there are other and better options available to reach the same, ultimate goals.

However, Chapman said, I want to ensure a full exammination and understanding of the consequences of such a decision are achieved before a final vote. The town cannot afford additional mistakes or failure to fully investigate the ramifications of its decision before proceeding.

Read related stories on the current Mayor and councils reaction to Arbogasts decision, and another on the current and fuuture councils thoughts on the future of Tryon without annexation.