Annexing out for a year in Midtown

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After May 1, 2014, land battles could heat up

By Cindy Simpson

Midtown residents can rest easy for a year.
That’s how long they have before Harriman city officials can set their annexation sights on the area again.
Members of the Harriman City Council, however, are pondering what a yearlong state moratorium on annexation and potential law changes regarding growth boundaries could do for their chances of annexing commercial hot spots along the Hwy. 70 corridor.
The moratorium is part of Senate Bill 0279, which requires a majority vote of qualified voters in the proposed annexed territory prior to a municipality annexing within its growth boundaries.
The moratorium began April 1, 2013, and is to continue until May 1, 2014.
The most up-to-date schedule shows it was transmitted to Gov. Bill Haslam for action. State Sen. Ken Yager could not be reached for comment.
“That is really going to hurt the city of Harriman,” said Councilman J.D. Sampson.
The moratorium, from Harriman officials’ point of view, is expected to halt a litany of proposed legislation regarding annexation and urban growth.
An amendment to the Senate bill requires the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to review and create a report on state laws concerning annexation by January 2014.
Another amendment specifies Sevier, Sumner, Madison, Hardeman, Jefferson, Hamblen, Crockett, Haywood, Lauderdale, Blount, Montgomery and Williamson counties from the moratorium.
Sampson said the annexation legislation started popping up because of a battle between communities that wanted to gobble up land around the Volkswagen plant near Chattanooga.
One proposal before state legislators this year would have kept Harriman from amending its growth plan unless all land in its current growth plan was first annexed into the city limits.
Sampson was concerned about the potential revenue lost if the ability to extend the city’s boundaries was postponed or eliminated.
The way annexation law works, sales tax revenue at its current level cannot be collected by the city for 15 years. Anything above the current level can.
“If they build and we cannot annex, you may as well say it is going to be 17 years. That there is really going to cost the city of Harriman a lot of money,” Sampson said.
Sampson proposed suing the state, which got a quick dismissal from Harriman City Attorney Harold Balcom.
Balcom pointed out that annexation was a power given from the state that can just as easily be taken away.
“There is absolutely nothing you and I can do about that,” Balcom said.
He did express concern, especially because currently only voters who live in a proposed area can vote.
If annexation law required a referendum for any annexation, that would hamper the city from annexing a commercial parcel, even if the property owner wishes to be within the city limits.
However, commercial property owners in Midtown were among those upset about the city considering a referendum for the Hwy. 70 corridor precisely because of their inability to vote in a referendum.