State annexation debate gets county’s attention
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Mar 26, 2013 | 1133 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County Commission
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Changes to annexation law being considered at the state level have started discussion and raised concerns locally.

The Bradley County Commission is expected to weigh in on the discussion at a voting session next week.

During a work session Monday, the issue of whether to express support for the state Legislature was placed on the April 1 agenda.

The legislation being considered would limit a city’s power to annex by requiring a proposed referendum to be approved or denied by the voters affected. Concerns have been expressed that cities statewide are ramping up annexation in anticipation of the legislation possibly passing.

A resolution supporting the state law was placed on the agenda for the next meeting by 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe on behalf of 4th District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones who was absent.

Currently, cities can annex anything within the Urban Growth Boundary as defined in the growth plan. Sixth District Commissioner Mel Griffith said the growth plan was created by an agreement between Bradley County and the city of Cleveland.

Fifth District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said this is why it is important for the county to be careful when changing or expanding the growth boundary.

“We have some citizens who told us to be careful for future purposes; now they are coming back and saying, ‘Told you so,’” Yarber said.

Lowe said the current process of annexation costs the city less money than holding a referendum. He said the changes would give residents more say in the taxes they pay.

“I think what is going on at the state level is the 10,000-foot view ... I think the spirit of municipality is anytime people want to assemble, pay more taxes for more services, they can. Contrary to that would be forcing someone to assemble with you. What the state Legislature is trying to say is, ‘It’s OK to annex, but you have to make sure people want to be annexed,’” Lowe said.

“Obviously there is another side to this. I would just like to hear something from the other side (supporting the current process),” 3rd District Commissioner Jeff Morelock said. “The law was passed this way for a reason several years ago.”

A change to the initial legislation, if passed, would reverse any annexations after Jan. 31, according to Lowe.

A resolution to support a state bill addressing misdemeanor mental evaluations was also placed on the agenda.

Lowe also said the County Commission has been asked to support a bill addressing the way mental health evaluations for alleged misdemeanor offenders are handled. Lowe said pending legislation does not address everything the Commission would like it to.

“It does put limitations. It clarifies some of the language,” Lowe said.

The law also supports dropping the charges on alleged nonviolent misdemeanor offenders when the cost of the mental health evaluations will exceed the fine they would pay if found guilty.

Potential changes to the Animal Control Contract with the city of Cleveland were also discussed Monday. Commissioners were presented a list of options drafted by Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel. The issue was placed on the agenda for the next meeting, but was later removed. Commission Chairman Louie Alford said the issue should be delayed because information was still being collected on how other counties in the area handle this issue.

The most discussed element of changes to service was eliminating responses to calls outside the city limits to pick up strays.

Davis said many surrounding counties do not offer “free pick-up service for dogs.”

He said the Commission needs to prioritize what it wants to fund in the upcoming

“Some of these priorities are going to have to go down a list because there is still no additional revenue out there. This will be the sixth budget year that I’ve said that,” Davis said.

“I’m not arguing with you that it’s time to make tough decisions. When we start getting phone calls, what’s our recourse?” said 2nd District Commission Connie Wilson. “We’ve provided a service that people are used to.”

Alford said in some other areas private companies take care of animal control.

The Commission stands to save money by changing the contract.

One option (Option 1B) uses last year’s audited numbers to determine this year’s cost.

“It seems to me on the service we can renew the contract and have the same existing services for about $27,000 less than we are paying this year for the same services,” Morelock said. “It seems to me a pretty good option.”

More money could be saved by selecting Option 2, which eliminates animal pickups outside the city limits.

Davis said the list was simply comprised of suggestions — it was not a guarantee the Cleveland City Council would approve any of them.

Lowe said choosing to fund the contract means choosing to not fund something else.

“According to the options we received, it is all based on a formula, and I’m not real hip on this formula that we are basing our prices on ... it’s costing us almost $100 a trip (for pickup),’ Alford said. “I would like to see something where they take this formula away and say an amount per animal.”

He suggested there could be two rates — one for animals that are picked up and another for animals from outside the city that are brought in.

A decision must be made by the end of June.