Kingsport's annexation discussions put on hold

Matthew Lane • Apr 12, 2013 at 12:03 PM

KINGSPORT — A meeting to discuss the future annexation plans of the city of Kingsport has been put on hold for two weeks, in light of a bill moving its way through the state legislature that aims to halt all city-initiated annexations for two years.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission had scheduled a joint meeting for April 15 to discuss the city’s current annexation policy and where in Sullivan County the city planned to look next for annexation.

Mayor Dennis Phillips had invited both Kingsport and Sullivan County’s respective boards of education to attend as well, given recent conversations about the proposed merger of North and South high schools and how annexation will affect the future student population in Sullivan County.

On Thursday, Phillips said he plans to postpone the meeting until sometime in May.

“It makes sense to put it off two weeks until the legislature decides what action to take on annexation,” Phillips said.

Several bills regarding annexation are currently working their way through the legislature, most notably SB 279, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson. Watson’s bill aims to halt all city-initiated, or so-called “forced” annexations statewide for two years to allow TACIR time to complete a comprehensive review and evaluation of current state annexation laws and submit a report of its findings and recommendations.

TACIR (Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations) is a 25-member committee of state legislators and private citizens whose mission is to provide analysis on intergovernmental issues and attempt to resolve any potential problems.

Under current state law, Public Chapter 1101 (commonly referred to as the Smart Growth law), municipalities can annex within their urban growth boundaries by ordinance and not have to go through a referendum process. Before Public Chapter 1101, if a lawsuit was filed challenging an annexation, the city had to prove the annexation was reasonable. Now, the property owner must prove the annexation is unreasonable.

The Smart Growth law put rural areas off limits to annexation by a city.

Watson’s bill moved out of the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee last month and is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.

“This hasn’t been addressed since 1998 and there’s a lot of (annexation) bills that have been introduced,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said recently. “I think a moratorium for another study to see where we are with the whole 1101 growth plan and whether it’s time for some change is probably prudent at this time.”

Ramsey was one of the 16 state legislators who worked to develop the Smart Growth law in 1998 and at the time said a goal of the law was to put on notice residents who live in areas likely to need city services in the next 20 years.

“Whether a two-year (moratorium) is the right time or one year to allow TACIR to study this I’m not sure. But I think that’s where we’re headed,” Ramsey said.

State Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) was recently appointed to serve on TACIR by House Speaker Beth Harwell. Last week, Hill said he thinks Watson’s bill is a good idea.

“Ultimately the control ... whether it’s annexation ... should be in the people’s hands. I think it’s great that it’s being looked at,” Hill said.

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