The Washington County Commission wants Johnson City to postpone any forward movement on the Suncrest Annexation in Gray until the two governmental bodies further discuss the move to resolve affected residents’ concerns.
Commissioners said the overriding issue, not just in Gray but in other areas of the county, is “the city’s desire to control development and collect all future sales tax growth,” according to a resolution passed unanimously Monday in Jonesborough.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Tuesday the city’s aggressive annexation policy is tied to a drop in sales tax revenues, which eventually will bring down county schools.
“One of the things that has become apparent is that we have a funding issue with schools, and it is sales-tax related,” he said. “In fiscal year 2011, the county received about $13 million in its share of sales tax revenue, and all of that went to schools. The city received $30 million, and it did not all go to schools. The county received 29 percent of that year’s share; the city received 68 percent.
“Meanwhile, 88 percent of all sales tax collected in the county in fiscal 2011 was generated in Johnson City; only 6 percent was collected in the unincorporated areas of Washington County. The remainder came from Jonesborough. So I think you see where I’m going with the correlation between annexation and sales tax.”
City Manager Pete Peterson responded to Eldridge by saying if 88 percent of all sales tax collected is from Johnson City, it is a good indication of its efforts to attract and create activity, which benefits all Washington Countians.
“The city made some extraordinary investments in the unincorporated areas of the county that are not in our Urban Growth Boundary,” Peterson said. “And, it is typically the financial investments made by municipalities that attract people to the area, such as police, fire, water and sewer and other services. The Urban Growth Boundary was set as a result of the two governmental bodies, and I don’t think this is being overly aggressive.”
Commissioners serving the county’s 7th District — Mike Ford, Mark Larkey and Roger Nave — plan to attend the City Commission’s March 15 meeting, at which time a second reading and a public hearing on the matter is expected.
“Annexation affects our schools negatively,” Larkey said Tuesday. “When sales taxes are collected in the city, the county only gets about 25 percent of that. When sales taxes are collected in the county (unincorporated areas), we get about 55 percent when it comes back from the state. As the city continues to annex, it restricts our opportunity.”
The city’s first phase of an ambitious plan to annex about 600 acres along the Bobby Hicks corridor is dubbed the Suncrest Annexation, which is comprised of more than 300 acres on or near Suncrest Drive. About 100 property owners from or near Gray showed up at the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission earlier this month when members voted 6-1 to recommend to the City Commission that the annexation go forward.
“When they continue on a path like this, it only leaves us with the option of raising property taxes, and that will affect both the county and the city,” Larkey added. “We passed a resolution last night (Monday) against synthetic drugs. Why hasn’t the city? It think the city has its priorities mixed up.”
Nave wholeheartedly agreed with Larkey.
“In my opinion, it is urban sprawl, and it comes during tough times,” Nave said. “The only thing that will come out of this is that property taxes will double for the people out there. Johnson City is not listening to the residents of Gray. So what can Washington County expect from the city in the future?”
Estimated assessed value of vacant, agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial property within the proposed annexation totals about $5.7 million. City officials say they are annexing the area to accommodate future growth.
“I am vigorously apposed to the annexation,” Ford said. “They’re taking all the cream. That’s a rich area for development, and they’re just being very, very aggressive.”
The city wants 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, and the Suncrest Annexation is the starting point.
The Suncrest Annexation will affect an estimated 160 people and consume about 307 total acres, of which 215 acres are working farms or for agricultural use, or about 70 percent of the area. There are 45 single-family and 44 multiple- family units, 13 acres are commercially zoned and 11.5 acres are zoned for industrial use, according to the city’s planning department.
The boundary of the Suncrest Annexation begins at the edge of the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot and extends northeast to the existing city limits, and the estimated property tax revenue generated annually by the city is an estimated $88,750; annual sales tax revenue is estimated at about $103,000.