State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said Tuesday he will not withdraw legislation that would let voters decide for themselves whether they want to be annexed into municipalities, regardless of Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin’s plea last week for him to do just that.
Crowe, the sponsor of a companion bill championed by State Rep. Micah Van Huss,R-6th, and passed in the House by an overwhelming majority, said he plans to go forward with SB 869 — a bill the Senate State and Local Government Committee is expected to take up next week.
“The bill that Rep. Van Huss brought before the House of Representatives passed with almost 80 votes, showing overwhelming support throughout all of Tennessee,” Crowe told the Johnson City Press. “I do carry the companion bill in the Senate which allows, as identified in the TACIR (Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) study, for a consensus of those being annexed by ordinance, giving the people being annexed a voice in their own annexation.”
Crowe said he has great respect for the city and county leaders he represents and appreciated the mayor’s comments. However, he pointed out that Tennessee is one of a dwindling number of states that give cities broad power to annex without the consent of those being annexed, and that the state is one of only a few in the nation that allow cities to force annexation of those being annexed without a referendum.
“This bill does not fix everything regarding our annexation laws, but it does certainly take care of the concern identified in TACIR’s report in allowing those being annexed to have a voice in that process,” he said. “My hope is that passage of this bill will bring us back to the table next year to address the situation in its entirety.”
Van Brocklin asked Crowe to pull the bill at the March 6 City Commission meeting. He said he was not speaking for other commissioners, but warned the bill would harm Johnson City and other municipalities and that problems resulting from the legislation “is authored by the very representatives that have been elected to serve the people of that municipality.”
The mayor admonished the legislation and said Crowe and Van Huss will bear the responsibility of increased taxes on Johnson City residents.
“He will squelch investment in Washington County and he will negatively impact the very growth we seek and need,” Van Brocklin said. “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.”
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.
“I want my folks to know that I stand firm and will continue to fight for their right to vote against being forcibly annexed,” Van Huss said.
State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, a co-sponsor of Van Huss’s bill, said there is nothing more fundamental than allowing the people to vote on the annexation of property they own.
“I think this is a very compelling argument for people in Johnson City to say, ‘let’s concentrate on Johnson City,’” Hill said. “I stand with Rusty and Micah and the citizens. The vast, vast majority of people want this.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, said once again Tuesday that he does not oppose the legislation. He does, however, believe there will be ramifications with which counties, cities and towns will have to wrestle following its passage.
“I don’t have an issue with the bill, but there’s more to this than just this one facet — the holding of referendums,” he said. “At this point, it is what it is. Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County better understand how this necessitates us working together. This legislation changes the landscape of Washington County.
“This puts us in a position where we need to respond,” Eldridge added. “We’re going to have to approach this new day with the objective of working together to manage all of Washington County. We must respect property rights but still consider our tax base.”
Each commissioner verbally supported Van Brocklin’s decree last week, though Vice Mayor Clayton Stout, who is challenging Van Huss this year, limited his comments.comments powered by Disqus