The battle to bring the Walnut Tree community into the Walnut Cove town boundaries continued last week with Walnut Tree resident David Hairston petitioning the town to again consider annexation, this time under a different section of the state codes.
“What we petitioned under is so stiff it was impossible to reach 100 percent,” he told the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners last week. “So we are now petitioning under Section J.”
Both Section J and Section B1 of State Code 160A-31 provide measures for annexation due to poverty levels. The sections are similar, but with key differences. Section B1 requires a municipality to annex a neighboring area if 51 percent of the households petitioning have incomes of 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. That section also requires that the annexed area add no more than 10 percent to the municipality’s population and that it add no more than one-eighth to the town’s aggregate external boundaries. Section B1 also requires a petition signed by 75 percent of the owners of parcels in the area seeking annexation.
Section J, which Hairston is petitioning under, does not force the town to annex an area, but also has less strict requirements.
Under this section the petitioners would still have to prove that 51 percent of the residents in Walnut Tree were at 200 percent or lower than the federal poverty level. The section does not have any requirements as to the number residents or amount of property which would be added to the town, but does require signatures by at least two-thirds of residents, not property owners, within the area.
“We have already achieved 86 percent of the actual home owners,” said Hairston, noting that the community was also submitting an affidavit regarding the poverty level in the area from UNC Chapel Hill Sociology Professor Dr. Alan Parnell.
In the affidavit, Parnell notes that he examined the census block for the Walnut Tree area using income data from the 2010-14 American Community Survey and used the poverty level for three- and four- person households because the statute did not define which level to use.
“Over three-quarters (76.9 percent) of the households in this area have incomes at or below $40,320, 200 percent of the three-person family poverty limit of $20,160,” writes Parnell. “88.2 percent of households in this area have incomes at or below $48,600, 200 percent of the four -person family poverty limit of $24, 300. Even though the neighborhood considered for annexation does not encompass this entire Census Block Group, in my professional opinion, it is very likely that well-over 51 percent of the households in the neighborhood have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level.”
Town Manager Bobby Miller said the Board would be calling a special meeting in the next two weeks to consider a resolution accepting the petition and beginning the certification process.
“We failed to do that at our meeting last week and we do not want to put it off for a full month before we can start the certification process,” said Miller. “After we pass a resolution to accept the petition then the town clerk will go through the certification process. If the petition is certified then we would have a public hearing and that would be followed by a vote by the board.”
Miller said if the Walnut Tree community was annexed it could have some impact on the town budget and services.
“Everybody in the neighborhood is already a water and sewer customer,” he said, “but we would provide the board with an example of what the town will received from the water and sewer bills under an in-town structure rather than the out-of-town rate they are currently paying.
“The town would also provide garbage service to the area and we will likely have to put in some streetlights,” he added. “There are some areas over there that really need street lights. There are also some places where trash has accumulated and we would have to clean that up.”
Miller said he did not see any major increases to the town budget for extending police services to the area nor did he see any major street repairs that would be needed if the town decided to annex the Walnut Tree community.
But Commissioner Sharon Conaway said annexation could be “quite a big expense to the town.”
“Before we have a public hearing we need to do a lot of leg work,” she said. “People need to know what the financial impact would be on the tax rates and the water and sewer rates.
“Before anything can be done the whole area will have to be surveyed and I would say that could cost $20,000,” she said. “If we annex it then it would have to include a rate increase across the board for the whole town for water and sewer. We would have to increase our current rates to make up for the loss of revenue from them moving form out-of-town to in-town residents. Whatever we lose will have to made up by increasing rates in the town.”
She said she was unsure if the town’s tax rate would be impacted by a potential annexation.
“We would have to look,” said Conaway, “and see what we would have to pay for additional services.”
She noted that the area seeking annexation was valued at approximately $5.2 million.
“It will only bring in about $21,000 a year on property taxes,” said Conaway. “It will not generate a significant amount of revenue for the town. “
Miller said he hoped a hearing could be scheduled for July, but Conaway said it may take longer to gather all of the required information.
“The public has to know the specifics in order to make informed decisions at the public hearing,” she said.
Hairston said the residents of Walnut Tree did not want to be burden on the town.
“We want to be an asset to the town,” he said noting that they working to create a new community center in the area.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.