Proposed annexation riles property owners

AUBURN - Howard Hawthorne spent $600 in the late 1990s to deannex from Auburn's city limits his 64 acres on Brown Bridge Road. Auburn proposed reclaiming Hawthorne's property along with 25 other parcels totaling 279.32 acres. Rather than join Auburn, Hawthorne and 10 other property owners are being welcomed into neighboring Carl.

Those 25 tracts are islands of Barrow County surrounded by the city of Auburn or backing up to Carl. Islands are a common phenomenon in growing areas, created through annexations. Georgia House Bill 489 gives municipalities the right to annex those islands, whether or not the land owner wants to join the city.

The parcels to be annexed stand on Autry Road, Brown Bridge Road, Carl-Midway Church Road, County Line Road, Fourth Avenue, Kilcrease Road, Lyle Road, Parks Mill Road and Sixth Street. They hold residences, farmland, Midway United Methodist Church and Masonic Lodge No. 230.

Carl welcomes new residents

In a special-called city council meeting Thursday, Carl City Council members voted unanimously to annex an estimated 60 to 100 acres owned by 11 people targeted for Auburn's proposed annexation. Those properties either backed up to Carl's city limits or were already inside Carl with a section of land laying in unincorporated Barrow County, Carl Mayor David Brock said.

"When the two cities were formed, they left a 50-foot-wide strip of county between them as a buffer," Brock said.

Carl, which has no city taxes, annexed properties on Carl Cedar Hill Road, Carl Midway Church Road and Parks Mill Road. The annexations will be finalized Dec. 31.

Auburn officials said the annexations will close gaps on the city's map, cut duplication of services, lower water bills for residents of current islands and give them city police protection. Affected property owners said their increased taxes won't outweigh any presumed benefits. Residents are asking their state and county elected officials and local attorneys to intervene.

Jack Wilson, Auburn city attorney, sent 25 letters to property owners in October informing them of Auburn's intention to annex their properties. The letter lists advantages to property owners once annexed, including access to Auburn's police force, garbage collection and lowered water bills.

The annexations would improve both city and county services by aligning Auburn and Barrow County roads, Auburn City Council Member Dorissa Shackelford said.

"I am against unpopular annexations for the sake of outward expansion," Shackelford said. "It's hard to get a city road paved when you have to work with the county on a little patch inside the city."

Mike Tuggle has lived on his island for 19 years. He is unimpressed with Auburn's road maintenance and prefers to remain in unincorporated Barrow County.

"The Auburn roads are dilapidated," Tuggle said. "I dodge potholes and I would have to pay taxes and the city isn't doing anything about it."

County, state officials object

Doug Garrison, Barrow County's Commission Chairman said the commission will object to the annexations.

"They are being annexed against their will," Garrison said. "They are Barrow County citizens and we need to support them."

Auburn city taxes on a $159,000 assessment would be about $280 per year under Auburn's 5.20 millage rate, said Sheila Evans, of Auburn's permits and licenses department.

Auburn Mayor Harold Money said all properties would be grandfathered in under their current zoning, but the annexations will go forward, despite objections.

"I must maintain my responsibility to protect my people, and here noncitizens are getting the same benefits as citizens," Money said. "This should have been done years ago."

Leroy Evans, owner of NAPA Auto Parts in Auburn, is working with Winder attorney Richard B. Russell Jr. to prevent his Lyle Road property being annexed.

"The law is pretty clear on this and there is a specific procedure and it appears Auburn is following that procedure," Russell said.

Regardless, State Representative Terry England is studying possible alternatives within the Georgia Code.

"I understand the city's view point," England said. "But just because they were created for someone else's gain doesn't mean they should be annexed at someone else's expense."

Many of the islands were created through annexations to develop residential subdivisions. John King, former Barrow County Commissioner 1995-2002, is watching Auburn's city limits move closer to his property.

"If we do nothing, we will all be in," King said. "That will bring mad people into Auburn who will run for mayor and council and probably vote to disband the city's charter."

For 11 affected property owners, the struggle might be over.

"It was our duty to allow these folks a legal out," Brock said.