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Municipal annexation: a legal option or a violation?

Staff Report • Sep 23, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Municipal annexation by ordinance is constitutional in Tennessee. That’s the legal opinion of state Attorney General Robert Cooper. As the NET News Service reported earlier this month, Cooper was asked by state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, to consider if ordinance-based annexations by cities and towns violated the rights of property owners. “Absent invidious discrimination or an intent to circumvent the ‘one person, one vote’ principle, annexation by municipal ordinance is constitutional,” Cooper wrote in his July 25 opinion. “Neither the United States Constitution nor the Tennessee Constitution recognizes a right for a person to retain his s or her real property in a particular unit of local government.” The state attorney general’s opinion, however, is just that — his opinion. Critics of the annexation law say Cooper’s thoughts on the state’s annexation law doesn’t necessarily speak for the courts. The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has been tasked with making an in-depth study of this state’s annexation law. As we noted in this space back in July, it’s been a while since annexation was a major issue in Tennessee. State legislators last tackled the issue in the late 1990s when they approved a smart growth law that governs when and where cities and towns can expand. The law established urban growth boundaries for all municipalities and counties in Tennessee. Ordinance-based annexations make sense. Cities and towns must be allowed to determine how their key gateways are to be developed. They must protect their boundaries. Annexation is an important issue to all Tennesseans. Limiting a city’s power of annexation hamstrings its ability to grow its tax base, thereby placing an additional burden on its current property taxpayers. Likewise, unchecked growth can damage the very qualities that once made a community so desirable to live in. We’d like to hear from you. Do you think municipal annexations pass constitutional muster in Tennessee? Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717 Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com? . Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

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