NASHVILLE -- A state House panel on Tuesday approved legislation that would allow residents of sections of cities, including Chattanooga, to vote in self-initiated referendums to "de-annex" their areas if the majority of voters in the area approve doing so.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson. The Senate version is awaiting a final vote.
Under existing law, city governing bodies can de-annex territory through ordinances, but Carter and Watson want to give residents the ability through voter-initiated referendums in which a majority of voters in the area would have their say.
The bill requires at least 10 percent of registered voters in the area to petition for a referendum.
But voters in sections that do leave the city will pay a price if successful. If the city has issued bonds to pay for improvements such as roads, street lights and utlities, residents will remain on the financial hook.
The bill is opposed by the Tennessee Municipal League and a number of its city and town members.
Chad Jenkins, TML's deputy exective director, raised concerns about fire and police services with public safety authorities becoming confused over "donut hole" areas within a city's corporate limits that are no longer within their service jurisdiction.
The Tennessee County Services Association is not taking a position on the bill due to a divided membership, an official said. But Will Denami, Hamilton County government's lobbyist, told the House subcommittee on Tuesdaythe county backs the bill.
According to officials, 26 other states allow some type of de-annexation.
Carter, a one-time top adviser to former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, last year won approval of legislation that does away with cities' ability to annex territory through ordinance. Instead, annexation efforts now require a referendum vote by a majority of voters in the affected areas.