published Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Annexation opponents mull legal challenge


A plan of services drafted by the city attorney includes these areas for annexation in the first phase:

* Cummings Cove

* Ramsgate

* Ray Jo subdivision and area east of Morris Hill Road

* A swath of land between Interstate 75 and Enterprise South

* A huge swath between Collegedale and Chattanooga, including parts of Ooltewah

Source: City of Chattanooga

A local attorney told opponents of the city of Chattanooga's annexation plan Monday night that they may be able to file a legal challenge similar to one recently filed against a Signal Mountain annexation effort.

"We've already got one in the pipeline," attorney Gary Starnes told a crowd of hundreds packed into a gymnasium and lined up out the gym doors at Westview Elementary School in East Brainerd. "It's not insurmountable."

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said city officials expected opposition.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton Karen Gruenewald asks a question of several Hamilton County leaders gathered to address hundreds of local residents during a Monday night meeting at Westview Elementary in East Brainerd. The panel discussed the benefits and drawbacks of being annexed by the City of Chattanooga and offered potential courses of action.

"We knew there were going to be challenges to any of this," he said.

Mr. Beeland emphasized that the annexation plan falls under the urban growth boundaries set in a 2001 agreement signed by officials of Hamilton County and the cities within it.

Mr. Starnes and a group of residents filed a lawsuit against Signal Mountain in December over the annexation of two upscale subdivisions. That suit has halted the annexation effort there.

The Signal lawsuit challenges the urban growth plan and claims that the town's annexation plan does not include adequate services. Mr. Starnes said residents annexed into Chattanooga could file a similar lawsuit if the City Council approves an annexation plan.

Mr. Starnes went on to say that some areas that could be annexed may not get sewers, despite the fact that the 2001 countywide urban growth plan requires the city provide them within three years.

He said that the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority wouldn't have to install sewers if it didn't cede the annexed territory to the city within 30 days.

City Attorney Mike McMahan could not be reached for comment Monday night, but Mr. Beeland called the claim a scare tactic that was "whipping them up into a frenzy."

Wastewater authority Chairman Phil Smartt, who was present at Monday's meeting, said he would vote to cede the territory under the authority's purview to the city if that would halt annexation. He said he couldn't speak for other members of the authority board but asked attendees to call or e-mail them.

Also present at the meeting were County Mayor Claude Ramsey, Sheriff Jim Hammond, and county commissioners Larry Henry, Bill Hullander and Jim Coppinger.

Mr. Coppinger asked if anyone in the room was in favor of annexation. No hands were raised.

Mr. Ramsey advocated civility in annexation opponents' lobbying of Chattanooga City Council members.

"Do it in a kind and gentle sort of way," he said. "Threats don't amount to a hill of beans."

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whwilson said...

This plan was wrong when it was conceived 10 years ago and it is still wrong today. At a time when the City of Chattanooga is having financial difficulty meeting its current obligations, why would it make sense to commit to expand "services" to areas in Hamilton County that neither need, nor want these services? The residents in the areas being annexed are unfortunate in that they will be paying (through additional taxes) for services they may never see. The residents already in the city are even MORE unfortunate in that they will ultimately have to foot the bill (through higher property taxes) to provide the services mandated by law to county residents that don't want or need them. According to reliable sources, the City of Chattanooga is ALREADY short between 85 and 100 police officers to adequately serve the citizens currrently inside the city limits. Where are the additional officers going to come from to patrol the vast new area being proposed for annexation? Even if the City agreed to provide and fund these additional officers and the patrol equipment they will require, it would take MONTHS to train them and get them on the beat. In the meantime, the newly annexed areas will either do without police protection, or the current city residents will have their already inadequate protection compromised -- same number of officers with a huge new area to cover. The same goes for fire protection -- where will the extra firefighters and equipment come from? I am told that municipal sewer lines cost upwards of one million dollars per mile to run -- not including the substantial cost to the residents when they have to connect to the sewer system. Does anyone seriously think the added tax revenue from 4500 annexed residents is going to pay for all of this? I see massive property tax increases on the horizon for EVERYONE in Chattanooga to pay for this folly. Mayor Littlefield and the City Council are doing no one any favors in their quest to overtake Knoxville to become Tennessee's 3rd largest city. The residents in the county are perfectly happy with the services they currently pay for out of their own pockets or receive now from the County. The residents of the City do not need to have their existing services diluted or be taxed additionally to "service" new residents that aren't asking for these services. None of us (city or county residents) need an additional tax burden during the middle of a recession in which hundreds of people in and out of the city limits are already struggling to keep their homes. Mr. Littlefield and the City Council members -- this is a very bad idea at a very bad time!

August 5, 2009 at 12:05 a.m.
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