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City Council Drops Royal Pines Annexation Plans

ASHEVILLE October 12 - And then, a miracle happened.

by Leslie Kulba

It was well after 10:00, late enough for anybody who
had to get to work the next morning to wonder if they hadn't slipped
into a waking dream. City council had been meeting since 3:00. They
had just finished hearing a stream of hardships stories from residents
of Royal Pines and Cooper's Hawk, areas about to be annexed.
Involuntary annexation is always unwelcome, but these people were
already laid off, on fixed incomes, unable to find work, selling their
possessions, and doing without things considered essential in not-
too-distant economies.

It was only a public hearing. State law requires
municipalities to vote on weighty matters like forced annexations at a
subsequent meeting, giving leadership time to review and digest
information presented. It was as if the clock had struck silly time, and
members of council were not immune to the loquacity of
sleeplessness. Either that, or, as some in the room suggested, they
were trying really hard to postpone the next agenda item.

Councilman
Bill Russell took a turn. Always opposed to forced annexation, he said
peoples' lives were hanging in the balance. They could not afford to
pay doubled property taxes. The city, however, could get along with
or without annexing them. He then made a motion to withdraw the
annexations the city was considering and put a 12-24 month
moratorium on pursuing any other annexation plans. Esther
Manheimer quickly seconded the motion, provided the moratorium
last only twelve months.

Manheimer wanted to be clear she embraced
the School of Government's philosophy that municipalities have to
annex in order to thrive. She was, however, sensitive to the concerns
expressed. Jan Davis thanked Russell for forcing the issue because
annexing in current economic conditions did not feel right. Other
members of council were not as supportive, so Russell backpedaled
his motion to where he could feel the traction of majority support. In
the end, council voted 5-2 to drop all plans for annexing the Royal
Pines area, letting 1595 people off the hook.

Before the vote, Gordon
Smith launched into a speech about tax inequities. It was the same
old stories about Asheville having a high daytime population, a
ridiculously high number of emergency calls for service, the burden of
the ridiculous Sullivan acts, etc. After a few minutes, anti-annexation
activist Betty Jackson stood up and headed for the door. She stopped
short and shouted, You're passing the buck! The police followed her
into the hall. Only Smith and Brownie Newman voted against the
motion. Since Russell's motion was so unprecedented, City Attorney
Bob Oast will have to verify its legitimacy.

Public Comment

Mike
Parentice, a resident of Cooper's Hawk, thanked Councilman Cecil
Bothwell for sharing his positions on forced annexation, as it gave
him facts to challenge. First, Cooper's Hawk currently had access to
three county fire departments each about five minutes away. The city
has one department five minutes away, and the next closest is
twelve. Buncombe County EMS personnel are trained to deliver more
services than their city counterparts, and seven different insurance
companies assured Parentice the difference in the organizations' ISO
ratings would not cause homeowners' rates to go down.

If annexed,
residents' property taxes would go up 57 cents. Numerous people
told council they had no more to give. Belle Reina spoke about
current unemployment rates and the financial anxieties of the lower
and middle classes. People need to be getting paychecks, not giving
their paychecks away. She told how most people are having to
change their lifestyles to balance their budgets, and suggested
council do the same, remarking, We're not your bailout.

We're yours to
be taken, said Michael Hinman fatalistically about what council was
about to do. Hinman was one of very few who admitted having
enough financial resources to survive the annexation. He wanted to
correct a commentary that appeared in the local daily saying
Asheville City Council spent like drunken sailors. When I was in the
Navy and got drunk and ran out of money, I stopped spending.

What
water was not already provided by the city would continue to come
from wells. Tim Moffitt said he needed 1200 feet of pipe, to be
installed at his own expense of $140,000, before he could take
advantage of the city's water system.

Residents told how the extra
$300-400 in property taxes would break them. Bills, taxes, and
mortgages were not being paid. Nicole Hazzard referred to the
process as d*** sad. She had lost her job when the recession hit, and
her husband?s hours were cut. They can't pay their bills, and she's
had to cut back on her meds. They can't pay their mortgage and twice
as much in property taxes. If annexed, like many in Royal Pines, they
wouldn't be able to sell their house in the slow, slow market because
similar houses right across the street with only county assessments
would sell before theirs.

Several came out against the city for its
spendthrift reputation. Lisa Fruchtman said the city would be
eliminating affordable housing and affordable rental units. Council
wanted to deprive people of discretionary funds that could go into the
economy instead of tightening government's belt. She reminded
council they were supposed to derive their powers from the consent
of the governed. Fruchtman didn't feel council had anybody's
consent.

Alan Ditmore addressed the regulatory burden. Once
annexed, people wouldn't be able to burn brush, chain their dogs,
grade their driveways, shoot a gun, or feed chickens. Permitting
requirements would be onerous. What's more, by bringing a bunch of
people into the city who did not embrace urban values like domestic
partner benefits for city employees, the city would be reducing
revenues from the gay tourist trade.

Reina presented council with 650
signatures from residents opposing the annexation. After the meeting
she told the story of going door to door informing her neighbors about
what was about to happen. Numerous residents shared that the
greatest thing about the ordeal was the way neighbors started pulling
together.