You would think allowing the people to vote would be a given in America. We fight wars and sacrifice young lives across the globe to protect or establish that right, yet in our own land three states deny it. Regrettably Tennessee is one of those unfortunate three.
Can you imagine in the land of the free a form of government being forced upon a people without their having a voice in the decision? The process is called annexation by ordinance. Only cities have that power, and they will take every measure to preserve it. They will fill the legislative halls with their paid lobbyist, and when the awareness of the injustice of the act is revealed they will send in even additional ones; even calling back retired ones to put down the threat. This past week all of them focused their efforts to defeat Rep. Mike Carter and Senator Bo Watson’s proposal to allow a referendum of the people before annexation could take place.
Would you think this could happen in Tennessee? The Tennessee Municipal League, which is made up of member cities with a goal to protect cities say, "We have to have this power to grow, without it we would die." Think about it: states can't reach out and confiscate people's property to grow. Counties do not have this power, yet they grow. They grow by providing services, by attracting industry and by developing an environment that those outside their domain will want to be a part of. They say, "we may force them in but we don't confiscate their property." What about when those annexed cannot afford the additional level of taxes imposed upon them? Eventually they will confiscate their property even though those punished never had a voice in the decision to take on that tax burden.
Do you think lobbyist have power? Their efforts have denied the right for a referendum for years. Their efforts convinced past speakers of the House to appoint a hand-picked committee to deal only with annexation issues. For the 28 years that I tried their efforts stopped any committee member from making a motion to hear the bill. The proposal would meet a silent death for the press knew the purpose of the committee and never bothered to cover its meeting. But at last Rep. Carter and Senator Watson have brought an awareness of the inequity of the ordinance approach and the bills, HB 475 and SB 279 are not going away. Cities that choose to annex by ordinance, just because they have that power, are faced by citizens asking, "Why can't I have a voice? Provide me with services, employment and an opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness....which when proposed was the right to my own property.”
Now that the issue has been raised it will not go away. Every official at every level when seeking your vote should be asked, "What about annexation by ordinance? Do you believe a citizen has a right to vote on their form of government?" Then no longer will Tennessee be one of the oppressed three.
Rep. Bobby Wood (1976-2004)
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I read your letter with interest. However, I think you omitted a few points that deserve consideration. On the surface the argument letting people vote for or against annexation seems like a good idea. However, to annex or not to annex is not as simple as it sounds. If we are to think logically and realistically we must understand both sides of the argument. To begin, please answer these simple questions.
1. If you are receiving free milk and eggs provided by your neighbor, would you ever choose to purchase milk and eggs?
2. If you could go next door and sample all the desserts you wanted for free, would you spend your money making and baking the same desserts at your house?
3. If your neighbor who was providing the goodies asked you to ante up and pay your fair share, would you vote to annual obligate yourself to sending the neighbor a check for the free items you often use?
Now honestly answer these questions.
1. Where do you go when you exit your neighborhood? Are you tooling up and down your personal street or are to treading over a neighboring municipality’s streets? Are you visiting the parks and recreation centers on your block or are you visiting the city you don’t wish to be annexed by?
2. When you visit the city to go to work, are you pitching your garbage in can that needs to be emptied by a city’s public works department? Are you running a business a stone’s throw from your city customer base? Do you think the county is paying to clean and fix the city street you travel? The services aren’t free. Are any city dwellers helping pay county taxes to repair the streets in your neighborhood? Are the city dwellers county taxes paying the majority of your county services?
3. If your car overheats and catches on fire while you are in the city, are you thinking the city fire department needs to come to your assistance for free? If you cause an auto accident, are you thinking the county sheriff will respond? No, it will be the police department you do not pay for. Are you aware that, though I live in the city and never receive services from the county sheriffs, my county taxes pay for the visits you receive from the county sheriff?
If you could stay on your street, visited a city less than twice a year and never were a burden to a city, I would say you would never need to be annexed. However, the situation is this. Over 70 percent of Hamilton County’s residents live in cities located within Hamilton County’s borders. That 70 percent is paying to support the city amenities that unincorporated residents freely partake of at no charge. That majority municipal tax base pays for the perks enjoyed by the 30 percent of unincorporated residents who think there is nothing wrong with freeloading.
Those city residents who also live in the Hamilton County (i.e. all the residents of East Ridge, Red Bank, Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Soddy Daisy, Cleveland and Ridgedale) have been supporting their own services via city taxes (plus paying county taxes) to allow unincorporated residents to experience a quality of life that is no longer rural or bereft of services. This puts city residents paying to support the “county lifestyle” twice. City dwellers pay once when you visit the city and daily when you stay home.
I am paying for Apison’s roads, but have never driven on a road in Apison. Can you carve my county taxes from repair, cleaning and deicing of all the roads that I never use? If you want to put annexation up for a vote, by golly let’s all vote. Make it a referendum of the city residents and the residents that don’t want to be annexed. If we city residents have to keep paying your freight anyway, we deserve a vote too.
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While I have a deep and abiding respect for my good friend Bobby Wood, and I do not necessarily disagree with the State Representative Mike Carter’s and Senator Bo Watson’s bills on annexation I would like to throw out an idea:
If cities are not going to be allowed to annex within their legally agreed on urban growth boundaries without referendums then the counties should have certain restrictions put on them too. I propose a minimum lot size of one acre in the unincorporated areas of counties, and limit commercial and industrial zoning to what is in existence today, unless the property is annexed into a city by referendum. This is a common sense piece of legislation which should be offered as a companion bill to the Carter/Watson bills. I propose this companion legislation because counties, unless they have Home Rule, offer virtually no protections to home owners and property holders because of the limitations put on counties by the state constitution.
Just last week we read how the County Planning Commission approved yet another subdivision in northern Hamilton County, on yet another little narrow road, and on top of that on low lying land. The Planning Commission heard from neighbor after neighbor about how they thought their property values would be diminished, how they moved out into the “country," which was swiftly vanishing. The Planning Commission is made up of good folks but thanks to the fact that the county has hardly any regulations, and no plan for that area, they really had no reason, which was legal, to not approve the subdivision. Only the county commissioner who lives in that area, who knows what’s happening to that beautiful end of the county, voted against it in the end. I have lots of friends, who have moved to that area, and the near constant complaint is that the county is allowing too much to be built off of Ooltewah Georgetown Road, and that it is starting to feel like there won’t be anything left out there but subdivisions within a few years.
So, why did the Planning Commission approve it? Because the county doesn’t plan, they don’t want to tell a developer no, and by in large they can’t, because of the lack of Home Rule. There is also a contingent of county commissioners who seem to think that we can grow our way out of future tax increases, that for the sake of low taxes we should develop every square inch of land we have. You are essentially describing a Ponzi scheme, based on quick growth. The problem is that if the growth isn’t planned, if the construction is cheap, if the roads deteriorate, if the run off is not contained, if it all becomes clogged with traffic, and there are no schools, and in the end the once sought after area becomes a mess, then who pays the bill? Well just like when a Ponzi scheme fails, its the investors who came in late who are left with nothing but debt and financial ruin, and it will be the same for our county.
For those that think planning, and good solid regulations will mean the end of growth in Hamilton County, I advise you jump in the car one afternoon and head to Williamson County outside of Nashville. They plan everything in Williamson County, and guess what? Their per capita incomes are off the charts, their property values are through the roof and their taxes are low. They have said “no” to the Ponzi scheme, they decided that managed growth made sense, and it has paid off, everyone in that part of Tennessee wants to live in Williamson County, but it isn’t because they have cheap taxes, cheap housing, and it is cheap to do business, it’s because it is beautiful, it is planned, and quality attracts quality.
The other complaint from my friends who live out in the county is the lack of regulations which would help manage junk. Take a drive up in northern Hamilton County or to the eastern end out in Apison and look at all the garbage. If you want a to have a sinking feeling in your gut try being one of those home owners who after building a $350,000 house sees an old trailer hauled in across the street and a shade tree auto mechanic set up shop. Even worse, be that guy, when you call your county commissioner and discover that your commissioner is almost helpless to help you. This is in large part, once again, due to the fact that Hamilton County does not have Home Rule, and thus is extremely limited on the types of rules it can put in place.
I have known many a Libertarian and or Tea Party friend who has moved out to the unincorporated county to “avoid the taxes of Chattanooga,” who hated “big government” and just wanted “to be left alone.” Well that was until the neighbors started leaving cars on blocks, garbage all over the place, and their collection of pit bulls almost killed my friends' dogs. It is amazing how down right “communistic” such a person can become when they see their investment ruined by blight, and it is amazing how quick they want to move back to the city.
So let us have common sense when it comes to growth, growth occurs best where growth is managed, and that is in cities and or counties, which have Home Rule. I am all for citizens having the right to vote before they are annexed into a city. But folks who live in the county should have some form of protections put in place, which the county cannot offer. This legislation would allow for the protection of the way of life that many have moved out of the cities for. It would put the onus on the developers to get their property annexed before they could build concentrated housing developments, commercial properties, or industrial sites. I believe that this idea, coupled with Mike Carter’s and Bo Watson’s bills, would be a real solution to many of the real problems we find ourselves facing in many of Tennessee’s counties.