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Would-be residents give cold shoulder to Gainesville annexation

POSTED: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Larry Roberts, right, and Doug Allen take a close look at a map of a proposed annexation of a portion of Hall County on Monday afternoon at the Georgia Mountains Center during a public information session. The annexation is an effort to get rid of unincorporated islands within Gainesville city limits.

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While Gainesville officials tried Monday evening to stress the benefits of becoming a city resident to property owners who might be affected by a massive annexation of county islands, many of the property owners remained concerned about how the annexation would affect their tax bills.

In the first of two general information meetings about a possible annexation of about 560 county islands within the city limits of Gainesville, one man asked the City Council to leave his property like it is — in an unincorporated county island.

He was not alone in his plea.

Gainesville’s Assistant City Manager Kip Padgett told about 100 property owners affected by the annexation that becoming a city resident could mean more consistent service, curbside trash pickup, lower fire protection insurance ratings, and cheaper water and sewer rates.

The city had invited about 560 property owners to come and discuss their concerns about the possible annexation. Many who came to the meeting were concerned with taxes, the annexation’s impact on both city and county school systems and the fact that they would have no choice if the city decided to annex their property.

In response to questions about the annexation’s impact on local school districts, Padgett said city officials still were working out those details with school officials.

City school board member Maria Calkins said space — not money — is the biggest issue with the annexation.

Carolyn Patterson, who has owned a home on Riverbend Circle since 1959, said the benefits may not be worth the higher taxes she will be paying if that home, a rental, becomes a part of the city limits.

"I don’t like it, because I’m not going to get anything for it, except taxes to pay," Patterson said.

Patterson said she felt there was no recourse for people like her who disapprove of the annexation. Georgia’s law allows its cities to annex any properties that have become unincorporated islands within the city limits without the consent of property owners.

"What can you do? Legally, what can you do? Nothing," Patterson said.

Shane Reidling, who owns a trailer park on McConnell Drive with his wife and father-in-law, milled around the room at the Georgia Mountains Center taking the names and contact information of property owners who disagreed with the annexation.

If the city moves forward with the annexation, Reidling, who uses a well to provide water to his tenants, said his property tax on the 22-unit trailer park will increase by $1,300.

"That’s $100 a month I’m giving to somebody for nothing," Reidling said.

Supporters of the annexation were nearly nil at Monday evening’s meeting, but there were those who had not made up their minds.

Affected property owner Elora Stargel said she came to the meeting so that she could get as much information as she could about the benefits and negative impacts of the annexation. Stargel said she was not yet sure what to think.

"I would want what’s best for the county and city school system," said Stargel.

Belinda Dickey said her mother and daughter were weighing the pros and cons of having their Black Drive homes incorporated into the city limits. For Dickey’s daughter, it would be beneficial to be able to take her children to a school that is closer to their home. But the burden of more taxes on her mother may be too much, she said.

Still, the women said they were trying to learn about the annexation.

"The more you learn the more you understand," Dickey said. "Then you can make a decision whether it will benefit you or not."

Even Gainesville officials admitted that there were few at the meeting who seemed supportive of the possible annexation.

In a brief presentation, Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras asked the affected property owners at the meeting to learn about the pros and cons of the annexation before making a decision.

"The more we learn, the better all of us are," she said. "That’s the key that the council wants to do is to be sure that everybody knows exactly what it is that we’re talking about."

Planning and Appeals Board member Joe Diaz, who eventually will vote to recommend to the City Council either approve or deny of the annexation, said he wanted to know how the move would affect local schools before he makes his decision.

The Planning and Appeals Board and the City Council are both scheduled to vote on the annexation of the islands on Dec. 2. If approved, the annexation would be complete by the end of the year.



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