Upon requests from several state lawmakers to exclude counties in their districts from a proposed moratorium on forced municipal annexations, amendments are under consideration that may make Senate Bill 279 more palatable to local Tennessee government officials.
The original intent of SB 279 was to require that local voters directly sign off on annexations before a city could move to absorb more land into its taxing jurisdiction. However, an amendment from the chamber’s State & Local Government Committee re-wrote the bill, placing a moratorium on annexations not completed by April 1.
“We are not sent here by local governments. We are sent here by individual citizens, and if a geographical area is being annexed, it is my contention and my argument to this body that the citizens that are within that geographical area should have a say as to whether they are annexed or not,” said Sen. Bo Watson, sponsor of the Senate bill.
The proposal now is to put off voting on all measures related to annexation that are currently under discussion in the Legislature. The bills, five of them in the House and Senate, would be put before the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies.”
TACIR is made up of public officials from state and local government, as well as private citizens for the stated purpose of working out problems between different layers of government. Under the study plan, annexations that are in progress, but not completed, must halt while the TACIR review is underway.
Senate Bill 279 had nine amendments attached to it. Three were withdrawn, while two exempting specific counties passed the Senate on voice votes.
Sen. Steve Southerland’s amendment allowing the counties of Cocke, Green, Hamblen and Sevier to opt out of the moratorium was one amendment that passed. “This bill as written will put at jeopardy over $300 million in investments and over 1,800 jobs in three different projects in my district,” said the Republican from Morristown. “My counties have asked that they be taken out.”
Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, brought the other amendment that passed, which exempts Davidson County from the moratorium, primarily becauseMetro’s charter uses the term “annexation” to refer to expansion of services provided in an area, not geographical growth since it is one government within the entire county.
Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, brought an amendment to opt-out Williamson County, while Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, brought one to opt-out Madison County. However, both rolled their amendments to the heel to hear Watson’s explanation of his two amendments, both of which were not timely filed.
Watson’s two amendments would change the dates of the moratorium to April 1, 2013 through April 1, 2014, and addresses the opting out issue by allowing county commissioners to pass a resolution, by a two-thirds vote, that any municipality in the county could opt-out of the moratorium.
“Basically…adoption of this amendment would allow the local county government to make the decision whether this moratorium would apply to them or not,” said Watson, a Republican from Hixson.
The decision was made to roll the bill to Wednesday’s calendar, which marks the bill’s sixth appearance on the upper chamber’s floor for final passage.
Senate Bill 279’s companion House Bill 475 is scheduled for its first House floor vote Wednesday. It has 10 amendments attached to it, with eight of them dealing with counties wishing to opt out.