Johnson City and Washington County officials, as well as the county’s rural residents, are paying close attention to the General Assembly this session and the path it intends to take regarding annexation laws.
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has recommended an extension of a moratorium on municipal annexations of residential and agricultural property for another year to allow more time for an in-depth study of current laws.
TACIR began the study in May, nearly a year after a pending lawsuit halted the city’s so-called “forced” annexations in Gray. The commission’s recommendation, which is rumored to include language favoring more participation in the process from rural landowners, will affect all entities and individuals involved.
The moratorium was set to expire this coming May. However, should the legislature approve an extension, the moratorium on annexation without referendums would be extended to May 15, 2015.
Apparently, the sticking point with TACIR members is a split over a proposal to require public referendums on municipal annexations. There also is a call for more time to study who should get to vote in a referendum and how revenue generated from taxes on newly annexed property is shared with counties.
City Manager Pete Peterson and County Mayor Dan Eldridge have both said they do not want the state to mandate a one-size-fits-all remedy, preferring instead freedom for local governments to resolve local issues.
In July 2012, a U.S. District Court judge denied a request by attorney Alan Woodruff and five Gray residents to impose an injunction on Tennessee and Johnson City to freeze any city initiated annexations until a lawsuit against such action was heard.
The suit was filed on behalf of Gray residents involved in both the Suncrest Annexation, which the Johnson City Commission already had approved, and the Bobby Hicks Highway/Airport Road Annexation, also in Gray. The latter ordinance was making strides when it unexpectedly died on second reading in a 2-2 vote with one commissioner abstaining.
Johnson City has not initiated any “forced” annexations since the suit appeared, according to planning officials.
The Suncrest Annexation, which was comprised of more than 300 acres on or near Suncrest Drive, was the first phase of a planned 600-acre annexation that included land along the Bobby Hicks corridor. The city wanted to expand its jurisdiction starting from just northeast of the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot past Interstate 26 to a point about 4.5 miles northwest on Tenn. Highway 75.
The fate of this corridor hinges, in large part, on this study.