By: AMELIA MORRISON HIPPS, TN Report
Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 3:00 pm
Property owners across the state will have a two-year reprieve from forced annexation – and the tax increases that come with it — if a bill moving in the Tennessee Legislature becomes law.
The original intent of Senate Bill 279 was to require a majority vote for annexation by qualified voters before a city could annex their land. The amended bill unanimously passed the Senate State & Local Government Committee Tuesday.
Sen. Bo Watson, who has brought some version of the legislation for six years, said the bill “seeks to remedy an obvious flaw in the current law, a flaw that has been addressed by 47 other states. That flaw is our current law gives no voice to the citizens subject to an annexation ordinance.
“It is in effect annexation without representation, ergo it is taxation without representation,” said the Republican from Hixson.
The amendment brought by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris made the bill and sent it, along with five other pieces of legislation, to the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies” in Title 6.
TACIR is made up of public officials from state and local government, as well as private citizens, and seeks to work out problems between different layers of government.
Norris, who is also the chair of TACIR, said that one of the “unintended consequences of this fine legislation” was that a number of cities were accelerating the pace of annexation.
To stop cities from annexing additional land while the TACIR review is underway, the amendment would impose a moratorium on annexations that are in progress but not completed. The ban would extend from April 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.
The second reason Norris gave was that in 2012, TACIR started looking at Title 6, which was codified as a result of Public Chapter 1101, also known as the Growth Policy Act, in 1998.
PC 1101 required local officials within each of 92 non-metropolitan counties to work together to shape growth policy through the development of 20-year growth plans. However, the act did not impose a single, statewide solution.
“Our counties and towns are pretty much at year 15 through that process,” Norris said, adding there has never been “a stop, look and see” about how cities are doing in the planning process.
“Now we have this bill and maybe six or seven other bills all sort of taking bites out of 1101, and we don’t have a way of really fully absorbing what the impacts will be, not only on our constituents, but the counties or the cities in which they live,” the Collierville senator said.
Five other bills dealing with either annexation or development or growth were also sent to TACIR for study by the committee.
Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, sponsor of two of the bills (SB1316 and SB 1381) sent to TACIR, wanted clarification on the moratorium.
“This would be a moratorium on hostile annexation, but still permit the petition annexation?” she asked.
Watson said the amendment “does not prohibit consensual annexation. It allows for that if that’s what one would chose to do.”
He added that while the amendment “doesn’t solve the problem we’re seeking to solve, it is a step in the right direction. I know the chairman of TACIR is on this committee, and I would expect that this particular aspect of annexation would be specifically addressed by TACIR.”
Sen. Ken Yager, chair of the Senate committee, expressed his appreciation for “the cooperative attitude” of Watson and House companion bill sponsor, Rep. Mark Carter, R-Chattanooga, as well as Norris’ work on the issue.
“I think it’s properly characterized as a time out to give us a chance to look at it, and it is a step in the right direction,” the Republican from Harriman said. “I appreciate your gentlemen’s leadership on this.”
Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.