VOL. 128 | NO. 157 | Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Legislature to Explore Annexation Votes
By Bill Dries
The Tennessee legislature has put a moratorium on annexations, and even if the moratorium wasn’t in place, the Memphis City Council hasn’t been anxious to annex any territory beyond South Cordova for several years.
But the issue of annexation as a process remains a lively one, specifically whether residents of an area to be annexed should be able to vote on the annexation.
“We are one of the handful of states in the United States that still allows a municipality to really exercise their heavy hand of government and simply come in and take a particular territory,” state Rep. Steve McManus said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “What we are considering is a moratorium for about a year to see if really we want to change the law and become one of the majority of states that will say, ‘If a particular area is going to be annexed, it’s got to be done by referendum.’”
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video site, video.memphisdailynews.com.
McManus represents the South Cordova area that was annexed in 2011 after a 10-year court fight ended abruptly with a dismissal of one of several lawsuits over it.
McManus and other residents of the area say there was not adequate city notice and even tried a de-annexation petition that a legal opinion from the Tennessee attorney general’s office held was not legal.
In January, Jim Tomasik, one of those residents, will launch a petition to drive to get Memphis City Council member Bill Boyd recalled as a council member.
“Why is it just because we are in the county of Shelby County, we are supposed to bail the city of Memphis out of their financial mayhem that they’ve created,” Tomasik said. “We didn’t make this mess. We don’t want anything to do with it.”
Boyd said he is not concerned about the recall effort. He is also opposed to requiring a referendum before a city or town can annex an area already in its state-required growth plan and reserve area.
“I don’t think the citizens would ever approve any annexation. It’s a fairness thing, in my opinion,” he added. “It’s an imaginary line, and right across the street, in some instances, are the citizens who are paying all the taxes for the streets, the streetlights. Those residents (on the other side) go to work, they go to church … they utilize those services that only Memphis taxpayers pay for. It’s a fairness thing.”
“What does that say about Memphis?” McManus asked of Boyd’s claim that voters would reject annexation. “Give the people the right to vote. … If you need the money and people have the right to vote, you are going to look within and you are going to do everything you can to make this city a better city.”
He termed the South Cordova annexation a “land grab” meant to garner revenue. Boyd said the annexation was “almost a wash” in terms of revenues the city gets from property taxes versus what it spends to provide services to the area.
“Why are these people living right next door to Memphis if they don’t like Memphis, if it’s so terrible?” Boyd said. “Why do they go to church, why do they go to work, why do they do all of these things inside the city of Memphis if they think it’s a failing and terrible city to live next door to?”
Tomasik countered Millington’s recent referendums on annexation, which saw residents of Kerr vote down annexation, while residents in Lucy approved it.
McManus said the legislature’s study of the issue will likely pit the Tennessee Municipal League, representing cities and towns opposed to such referendums, against “representatives like myself who are listening very closely to what the citizens are saying.”
But the legislature passed the 1990s legislation that requires counties to have “growth plans” – plans in which the cities and towns within a county negotiate and agree on what unincorporated parts will be in their annexation reserve areas.
The cities and towns then begin to extend infrastructure in those areas in anticipation of future annexation.
“When the person moved into the South Cordova area, at the closing they should have been notified that there was a lawsuit pending,” Boyd said. “That should have been on your closing statement. … It’s about two pages.”
McManus said he was aware of the reserve area. But he said the lack of city notice after several years of legal motions was a “PR nightmare” of the city’s making.
“I will say there are an awful lot of people who had absolutely no idea,” he said.