The 3.4-mile tract of land would increase the value of the town's tax base by about 38 percent.
“The primary reason that the [Woodfin Board of Aldermen] felt this was necessary is that they were concerned that Asheville would annex the area, cutting into the tax base of the West Buncombe Fire District by about 12.5 percent,” Woodfin Town Administrator Jason Young told Xpress. “I understand that Asheville has said they don't want to expand there. But that is within the city's sphere of influence; they've been looking at growing into that area.”
Not so, said Asheville City Council member Jan Davis.
“Right now there are no plans to expand into that area. It's simply not developed enough. It would have to be much more urban,” Davis said. “It doesn't look like Woodfin and it doesn't look like Asheville.”
While city planners have studied the feasibility of annexing that area in the past, Davis noted, they only did so as part of a regular process that examines areas all around the city, few of which they actually move to take in.
“I think over the last 10 years we've annexed maybe 12,000 people, some of that voluntary,” Davis said. “We probably done some of the least annexation of any major city in the state.”
Asheville has already extended water and sewer service to the area. Also, the part of the Leicester area is seeking incorporation as its own town.
Meanwhile, the residents would see a tax increase, as in addition to county taxes and fire district fees, they would pay 26.5 cents per $100 of property value to Woodfin. The town would hire eight additional police officers and three staff to handle the increased population, but residents say they already receive many of the services that Woodfin would provide.
“We already have law enforcement, we already have fire, our garbage is taken care of,” Resident Megan Richardson told Xpress. “I would pay $400 more in taxes and get nothing out of it. I think they're just using this to try and pay their bills. We're outraged.”
Young noted that the town's tax rate is far lower than that of Asheville, which is 42 cents per $100. However, Asheville provides more services than Woodfin, something Davis said makes annexation of the area unlikely, as the city would have to bear considerably more cost to bring services in.
More than 200 people, mostly area residents, showed up at a July 7 informational meeting and were sharply critical of the annexation.
This is the second major annexation Woodfin has undertaken in the past three years. In 2006, an ambitious series of annexations greatly increased the town's area and population, now more than double what it was in 2000. In the process, it also ran into areas under the extraterritorial jurisdiction of nearby Weaverville, and the two towns had to work out an agreement.
Young said that the series of annexations are “not related at all.”
Asheville and Woodfin officials did meet on June 12 to converse about the possibility of an annexation agreement between the two municipalities. At their last meeting, Asheville City Council passed a resolution calling for a dialogue on reaching an annexation agreement. Both sides have described those ongoing conversations as cordial.
“We met with the city, including Mayor Bellamy and have had some good discussion,” Young said.
“We are having a good conversation,” Davis agreed, but added that there have been concerns over the rapid pace of Woodfin's expansion.
“It's in rough keeping with the legality of the law, but not the spirit,” he said. “This is the sort of thing that gets annexation opponents riled up — with some cause — and it's the sort of thing that turns legislator's heads.”
Woodfin's Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the annexation July 21 and will likely vote on the matter in August. If approved, the area would formally join Woodfin about a year later.
According to Richardson, residents of the area are ready to mobilize to stop the move.
“A lot of us aren't rich out here and we're all facing a recession; this could really hurt us,” she said. “We're ready to go door to door, hand out leaflets and get together money to hire a lawyer.”
-- David Forbes, staff writer
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