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 In the News, May 18, 2010 

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Short session could really be short. The gavel slammed at noon Wednesday to open the 2010 North Carolina General Assembly short session in Raleigh that local legislators say they think really will be short.  “Our bill drafting director has sent a notice to us for our information that there are fewer bills being requested than in the past,” said Sen. Jean Preston, R-Carteret. “And one thing he has not seen is appropriations bills asking for special funding for special projects. There are not many pork barrel special projects in this session.”

Editorial: Time to deliver on spending cuts. As members of North Carolina’s General Assembly return to Raleigh for their short summer session, they’re facing one of the most difficult budgets they’ve encountered in modern times. While the challenge is not as fiscally daunting as the 2009-2010 budget deliberations, when revenue shortfalls were more dramatic, requiring deeper and totally unanticipated slashes, the state’s legislative body still faces an anticipated $800 million to $1 billion income gap. Finding ways to make it work won’t be pretty. But it will be necessary. North Carolina cannot operate in the red — and while last year’s cuts were made in the relatively sterile panic generated during a non-election year, this year’s budget deliberations will take place with November’s state House and Senate contests only a shout away.

Electric rider unlikely. Action by the General Assembly to reduce electric rates for municipal power customers is very unlikely in this year’s short session and appears to be a long shot even in subsequent years. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, said he doesn’t think there’s much the General Assembly could do to provide relief on electric rates paid by Elizabeth City and other municipalities that are part of the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and ElectriCities. Elizabeth City, Hertford and Edenton all are members of the Eastern Municipal Power Agency or NCEMPA, and customers of the three municipalities pay significantly higher rates than their neighbors who are served by investor-owned utilities.

 

ANNEXATION

Town adopts policy on voluntary annexation. The town of Franklin now has a voluntary annexation policy after months of discussion among the Board of Aldermen. Town planner Michael Grubermann went over the policy at the town meeting Monday night after he was given the go-ahead to create a draft policy at last month's meeting. He explained that the policy is not an ordinance and that the document was created based on recommendations made by the town's planning board. "The objective of the annexation policy is to set forth guidelines for the annexation of parcels to the town of Franklin, whether those parcels are in the existing extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) or not, and whether they are contiguous or to be a satellite to the main body of town," Grubermann said.

Annexation back up for debate. There has been no shortage of discussion about what to do about the state's annexation laws. There have been meetings, a special legislative committee and debate on the House floor. “We think there are some good changes there without completely disrupting the system that has worked so well in North Carolina,” said Rep. Joe Hackney (D), Speaker of the House.  The House did pass out a bill last session, but the Senate said just because the House got a bill off their floor, doesn't mean they have found a solution. They said it also certainly doesn't mean they can find one during this short legislative session. “They worked on it a year and a half and have a bill that nobody likes,” said Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D). “What makes us think we can fix it in a month?”

Dislike of annexation bill turns off senators. There's a saying around the Legislative Building that a bill has probably found the right balance when neither side of a contentious issue is thrilled with the final product but both can live with it. The 2009 House compromise to the state's annexation rules now sitting in the Senate may serve as the example for what happens when both sides hold legislation in disdain. Citizens and municipalities are so displeased with the bill that cleared the House after more than a year of debate and lobbying that lawmakers are suggesting it's doomed after the first week of this year's short session.

Annexation policy not likely to change anytime soon. The debate continues over how much power cities should have to expand their boundaries. Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Orr said he does not expect significant changes to the rules governing annexation, either through the legislature or the courts. "The League of Municipalities is an enormously powerful organization that has great influence in the Legislature and I have no doubt that they will be opposing any dramatic changes in the way cities and towns can go about annexation," said Orr.

Editorial: Fair play – annexation issues will remain until legislators act. There's a House-passed annexation bill awaiting the state Senate's consideration, but little apparent interest in considering it. Small wonder. This is political dynamite, and the next election is only six months off. The members are borrowing trouble, though, if the election is their best reason for doing nothing. If the House bill needs improvement, its successor will need at least as much improvement in the next session, and a longer list of grievances will accompany it. None of the other realities will have changed, including the big one: This issue can be argued from the extremes, but it won't be settled from there. Any durable solution is guaranteed to disappoint absolutists.

Opinion: Annexation reform needed now. In North Carolina, citizens can easily be made subject to a change in governance with little power to do anything about it. Municipalities have the authority to take your property into city limits through forced annexation with approval of a city council that does not represent you, and is made up of representatives that you did not have the opportunity to elect. You can object, but opposition means very little because the existing annexation laws are designed to favor city governments. You can voice your opposition at public hearings where time limits are placed on the speakers, and as history has proven, your viewpoint will be ignored by city leaders.

 

ABC SYSTEM

Mount Airy to maintain control over ABC operations. A controversial plan to “modernize” North Carolina’s liquor stores apparently will have little impact on Mount Airy’s ABC operations, according to a local official who has fought a state takeover. Earlier this year, it was feared the effort by Gov. Bev Perdue to revamp the alcoholic beverage-control system statewide would lead to forced merger of all stores in a county into one system, along with allowing private businesses to sell liquor. This move was viewed as a “money grab” by officials in this financially strapped state which could rob Mount Airy and other communities of their ABC profits used for various local purposes. But Teresa Lewis, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners who on March 24 appeared before a state study committee exploring ABC changes, said Friday that a final report from the group has eliminated the thornier changes proposed.