Lincoln City approves ordinance to expedite annexation process
By: Terry Dillman Newport News Times
With very little discussion, council members unanimously approved an ordinance that would require property owners outside the city limits but within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary to sign consents to annex as a condition of receiving ongoing city water service.
The low-key approach to the high-tension decision contrasted sharply with the measured session-opening protest from a group of about 20 property owners from the Roads End development. They showed up to speak against the ordinance in another chapter of a story dating back to at least 1978.
During the council’s July 26 session, when the ordinance was first introduced, City Manager David Hawker said Roads End topped the city’s list of sites for potential annexation, and outlined the reasons, including the cost of providing water and sewer service to Roads End, which has 715 of the 1,240 properties outside the city that receive those services.
Roads End residents took exception to many of Hawker’s assertions and offered rebuttals Monday night.
“In the early ‘70s, Roads End had severe problems with water supply and sanitation,” said Roger Middleton. “At one point, the state ordered the city to annex Roads End and to provide water and sanitation service. It’s important to note that, at this point, the city refused to annex Roads End, citing the economic burden it would impose on the city. The city had no interest in annexation at that time.”
Middleton said city officials later found a way to help Roads End “while making a profit and avoiding annexation.”
He outlined a project in which the city sought and received a $590,000 federal grant to build a water system in “mostly” Roads End, with the other half of the $1.21-million effort paid through a local improvement district. Roads End property owners paid $486,000, and some city property owners paid $92,000 for the small section within the city included in the project.
“The important thing about this is that the city received this profit-making infrastructure at almost no cost to itself,” stated Middleton, who provided documentation to back his assertions.
He referred to two agreements signed between the city and Roads End in 1978 – one for sewer, one for water. He focused on the water agreement, which he said contains “no mention of the city’s intent to annex Roads End,” nor does “any other document surrounding the event.”
“There is nothing to show that Roads Enders knew or should have known that annexation was in the offing,” Middleton noted.
City officials set the water rate for service provided outside the city limits at 212 percent, or more than double the rate paid by city residents. Middleton said that in 1995, city officials ignored a recommendation by city-paid consultant Raymond Bartlett to lower those outside rates, rejecting it by a 4-3 vote. According to a transcript Middleton provided, current Mayor Lori Hollingsworth was one of the three who voted against ignoring the advice.
Middleton referred to comments by Hawker at the July 26 session, in which the city manager said the rates charged to outside customers still haven’t met the costs of operating and financing the UGB portion of the system, and asked for proof. He also called comments Hawker made about costs associated with a Port Lane pump station project and other water improvements “misleading and erroneous.”
“Why not use figures which tell the whole story, which give a clear idea of the proportionate use of facilities, and show how the costs should be divided between city and outside users?” Middleton said.
He called the council’s “rush to a vote” on the ordinance “unfair and irresponsible” without knowing “all the facts,” and relying instead on what he considered “broad, undifferentiated, unsupported statements.”
Others stepped up to back Middleton’s assertions and added a few of their own, including David Davis, who identified himself as the vice president of the Roads End Sanitary District.
Since 1978, he said they have operated their own sanitary system paid for through allocated property taxes. And for those 32 years, the sanitary district has had an agreement with the city pertaining to the operation of that system.
“It has always been a given that the city provide water as part of the system,” Davis noted. “The sanitary district would consider any action by city council to be a breach of contract on the part of Lincoln City.”
Denial of water – absolutely vital to sewer system operation – could, he added, be considered “a sanitary issue” by a state agency.
Davis also referred to the city’s ordinance requiring consents to annex in exchange for continued water service as extortion, blackmail, and “taking the low moral ground.” He urged them to stick with the process for voluntary consents, or consider “having a democratic vote on this matter.”
Hawker briefly defended his stance, and council member Rick Brissette said the ordinance “does not pre-suppose annexation,” but instead “gives council an opportunity to consider those issues at the appropriate time.”
After the 7-0 vote, no one took the final opportunity for public comment. The Roads End contingent stood up, turned and walked out en masse as council members wrapped up their session with their final comments.
Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or [email protected]