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Mayor calls for Crowe to withdraw annexation bill

March 7th, 2014 9:02 am by Gary B. Gray

Mayor calls for Crowe to withdraw annexation bill

Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin began Thursday night’s City Commission meeting by reading a two-page statement calling for state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, to withdraw legislation that, if passed, would require municipalities to hold referendums for annexations other than those requested.

Van Brocklin’s tone was calm but very terse and exacting: “When legislation that materially harms the municipality is passed, I believe that it is incumbent upon the sitting mayor to advise the citizens of the city of the problems that can result from that legislation, and this is particularly the case when the legislation is authored by the very representatives that have been elected to serve the people of that municipality.”

The mayor is referring to a bill sponsored in the House by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-6th, which passed overwhelmingly last month in a 78-8 vote. The bill mandates local referendums and would let property owners decide whether they want to be annexed into established Urban Growth Boundaries.

Now, companion legislation has moved to a Senate State and Local Government Committee. Crowe, the main sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, told the Press after the House vote that he hoped to move the bill along “as is.”

The bill would overturn Public Chapter 1101, which was established by the General Assembly in 1998 to allow municipalities to step beyond city limits to pursue development.

Van Brocklin said he was not speaking for other commissioners, but if the bill passed and Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law, he did not see himself voting to extend infrastructure to non-municipal areas in the future.

“I hope that Senator Crowe will reconsider. ... What the Johnson City Press admonished in their editorial on March 2 is likely to ring true. ... He will bear the responsibility for increasing taxes of Johnson City residents. He will squelch investment in Washington County and he will negatively impact the very growth we seek and need — growth that brings jobs for our citizens, growth that keeps our tax rates low and growth that brings new amenities and services to our community.”

Crowe was not immediately available late Thursday night.

The mayor also asked City Manager Pete Peterson for two things: a list of all water and sewer projects in the planning stages or under consideration that are outside municipal borders and a listing of areas already annexed that might be advisable to “de-annex” so that the provision of city services such as police and fire were not as spread out.

Each commissioner verbally supported Van Brocklin’s decree, though Vice Mayor Clayton Stout, who is challenging Van Huss this year, refrained. Stout has said he does not want annexation to become the center of all issues in his campaign.

“As a member of the Washington County Commission, I can tell you that bill is damaging to the county as well,” said David Tomita, who is both a city and county commissioner. “This puts a ball and chain on growth.”

In other business, commissioners voted 3-1 with Van Brocklin voting against and Tomita abstaining, to enter into an agreement with the Tennessee Wildlife Services to perform up to three “harassment projects” to rid the Gump Addition — or other potential areas — of starlings when they begin to roost next fall. The total cost would be about $18,000.

The birds’ droppings have prompted health concerns, and TWS District Supervisor Keith Blanton, along with the Johnson City Police Department, made several recommendations. Commissioners chose to pay $6,000 for each “deployment” in which the state agency will provide four to five personnel, as well as equipment including pyrotechnics, for a roughly four-day project.

Commissioners also approved on first reading a 3 percent increase on hotel/motel charges — otherwise known as a privilege tax. The current 5 percent tax would be raised to 8 percent.

The Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and its Convention & Visitors Bureau requested the increase and asked that revenues be put in a special capital projects fund.
Spending priorities include expansion of city softball/soccer fields near Winged Deer Park, upgrades to Kermit Tipton Stadium/Liberty Bell to make it appealing for college-level track events, Freedom Hall improvements and signage leading into the city.

Commissioners also agreed not to designate any additional revenue to a specific project until the fund is established and projects are prioritized.

“This will be a positive economic generator for our community,” Commissioner Jenny Brock said. “This will come back around full circle and help the hotels.”

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