Around the region: Bill to limit involuntary annexations moves forward

Published 10:33 am Friday, May 6, 2011

A bill approved this week by an N.C. House committee would make it more difficult for municipalities to proceed with involuntary annexations. The House Rules Committee approved a provision that would block involuntary annexations if 60 percent of property owners in the area sign a petition against it. If the petition requirement is met within four months of the annexation’s approval, the city is prohibited from pursuing the involuntary annexation again for three years.
Over the past 50 years, cities and towns in North Carolina have been permitted to annex adjoining, unincorporated areas without approval from property owners.
Under the proposed new law, municipalities also would be required to install water and sewer service taps to each house in the proposed annexation area if it’s requested by property owners in the area within about 60 days. If the taps are not requested by a majority, the city can charge for the hookups.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities said the bill, which now heads to the House Finance Committee for approval, would reduce the number of involuntary annexations in the state. The league said the bill may be only slightly less restrictive than previous proposals requiring a referendum on all involuntary annexations.
Cities and towns said new restrictions would stifle their ability to grow and gain additional revenue. They said current annexation law, which allows them to absorb adjoining areas that have become urban in nature, is a prime reason why North Carolina’s municipalities are among the most fiscally sound in the country.
However, opponents of involuntary annexations said residents in a proposed annexation area have no means of blocking the annexation under current law. Stop NC Annexation, a nonprofit group, praised the approval this week of the proposed new law, which it hopes will continue moving forward in the N.C. General Assembly to give property owners a voice in future annexations.
A bridge on I-277 in Mecklenburg County is the most substandard bridge in the state, according to AAA’s 2011 report on bridges in the state. The 40-year-old bridge in Charlotte, which carries more than 110,000 vehicles each day, is slated for $1.8 million in improvements to the deck and underside beginning next month, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT).
A bridge on I-26 in Buncombe County is ranked seventh this year on AAA’s list of the 20 most substandard bridges in the state. The 55-year-old bridge over Hominy Creek is scheduled for replacement, based on the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan, but it’s unclear when funding will be available for the bridge replacement.
AAA Carolinas said state legislators are considering capping the state’s gasoline tax at 32.5 cents per gallon, which would limit funding for bridge and road improvements. The current tax of 32.2 cents per gallon is due to rise two cents per gallon in July, generating an estimated $97 million in additional revenue. AAA said North Carolina has faced funding shortfalls over the past several years and last year was only able to allocate $96 million for bridge maintenance and repair.
AAA’s 2011 report shows a total of 5,320 substandard bridges, about 29 percent of all the bridges in the state.
The AAA report also gives the total number of substandard bridges in each county of North Carolina. The report shows 45, or 33.6 percent, of Polk County’s 89 bridges are substandard. Henderson County has 96 substandard bridges, or 37.1 percent, and Rutherford County has 137 substandard bridges or 44.1 percent.
AAA classifies substandard bridges, based on federal guidelines, as either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” All of the bridges in AAA’s top 20 ranking are structurally deficient, meaning they are in relatively poor physical condition and/or they are inadequate for the weight of trucks. The average age of the top 20 substandard bridges in AAA’s report this year is 49. AAA said none of the bridges poses an immediate threat to motorists.
North Carolina legislators are considering whether to shorten the school year for some schools in mountain counties that lost nearly a month of classes this year because of winter weather. A committee in the N.C. Senate agreed to allow schedule flexibility for school districts in six mountain counties. The flexibility would allow districts there to hold classes on less than 180 days as required by law. If approved by the N.C. General Assembly, the flexibility also would be offered to Cumberland and Green counties, where school buildings were damaged by tornadoes last month, and in Onslow County, where a wildfire in March forced schools to close.
The N.C. House and Senate approved an increase in speeding fines in school zones. Legislators agreed to increase the fine from a minimum of $25 currently to $250. The legislation, once signed by the governor, would place school zone fines in line with those for highway work zones. The increase was backed by the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.
Residents and visitors in Asheville pay the highest gas prices in North Carolina, according to AAA Carolinas. AAA reported the average price of unleaded gas in Asheville recently as $3.876 per gallon, slightly higher than the state average of $3.853. Gas prices were cheapest in the Triad area at $3.83. According to AAA, the average cost of a gallon of gas in North Carolina is up more than $1 from a year ago. After beginning the year at an average of $3.03 per gallon statewide, prices have risen in line with the cost of a barrel of oil and are now around the same level as in October of 2008. North Carolina’s average is below the national average of $3.967, but above the average of $3.711 in South Carolina. AAA attributes the price increase this year to the weak U.S. dollar, unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, a seasonal increase in demand, and a switch to cleaner fuels. AAA Carolinas said, if current conditions persist, North Carolina could see prices top $4 a gallon this summer.
Lake Lure Town Council is asking Pardee Hospital to consider bringing a medical facility to the town. Lake Lure Mayor Bob Keith said town residents currently rely on a “fragmented network of providers in the region,” and would benefit from a family practice, urgent care, therapeutic services, wellness care and assisted living facilities. Keith said the town decided to approach Pardee after it was unable over several years to gain help from Rutherford Hospital.
Pardee Hospital said it is studying the feasibility of a medical clinic in Lake Lure, although it cannot guarantee it will reach a different conclusion than Rutherford Hospital.
The U.S. Postal Service is planning to close the mail sorting facility in Hickory and consolidate operations with the Greensboro facility. Employees from the Hickory facility are protesting the plan, which they said would cost Hickory 200 jobs and potentially disrupt delivery in Caldwell, Boone and other mountain counties. The postal service, which lost $8.5 billion last year due to reduced business, said the consolidation would save about $6 million annually. The postal service said a final decision has not been made, but, if the Hickory facility is closed, employees there will be offered jobs at other locations.
GE Energy will be honored this month for its economic impact on Upstate South Carolina. The Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce plans to present the Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd International Economic Development Award to GE for its role in development international business in the Upstate. GE Energy Greenville has grown over the past 40 years into the world’s largest gas turbine design and production site and is one of South Carolina’s largest exporters.
Two buses carrying 13 Freedom Riders left Washington D.C. 50 years ago to travel to Richmond, Va., Greensboro, N.C., and Rock Hill, S.C. The riders who traveled to fight segregation in the South in 1961 faced firebombs and the Ku Klux Klan on their way through Georgia and Alabama. Georgia Rep. John Lewis was with the Freedom Riders when he was attacked at Rock Hill, S.C., for attempting to enter a whites-only waiting room at the bus terminal. The riders eventually completed their trip to New Orleans by plane and then returned to Mississippi. As part of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights Freedom Riders, students will retrace the path of the Freedom Riders. PBS also is airing a new documentary on the history.

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