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Gainesville halts annexation plan

POSTED: November 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Shane Reidling says he will have to call off a protest he had planned for Dec. 2.

Protesting will not be necessary for Reidling now that Gainesville city leaders have dropped a controversial plan to annex islands of unincorporated Hall County into the city limits.

At its work session Thursday, the City Council decided to squash a plan that would have annexed 561 parcels into the city by the end of the year.

"I’m glad they’ve ... come to the answer of the people," Reidling said. "... With the David versus Goliath here, David can put down his sling shot now."

In place of the mass annexation, the city will waive the $500 application fee for any property owners living in the islands who choose to become part of the city.

The city soon will send letters to property owners who would have been affected by the proposed mass annexation explaining the change in plans.

Councilman Danny Dunagan and Mayor Myrtle Figueras said Thursday they did not want to force residents into the city who have expressed opposition to the annexation at two public meetings.

Dunagan was the first to suggest that the council halt its plans. Figueras and Councilman George Wangemann agreed.

"To me, it’s not worth the headache," Figueras said.

Wangemann said the tax revenue that would come from the annexation, about $167,850 for the government, may not be worth the costs of providing city services to those 561 properties.

"That $170,000 would not really go a long way," Wangemann said. "We may end up with a net loss of revenue."

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick, on the other hand, said city residents should not pay to provide services like road improvements to areas that are not in the city. He added that since other municipalities in Hall County have moved forward with island annexations, Gainesville could stand to lose a portion of its allotment of local option sales tax collections since allotments are divided among the municipalities according to population.

Many property owners affected by the plan have said at public meetings that they want to remain in unincorporated Hall County.

Gainesville officials told the property owners that joining the city could mean more consistent services, curbside trash pickup, lower fire protection insurance ratings and cheaper water and sewer rates.

But the property owners said they were concerned with taxes, the annexation’s impact on schools and that they would have no choice if the city decided to annex them.

Reidling, who owns a mobile home park on McConnell Drive, said the annexation would have stifled his business and his ability to provide low-income housing since the city’s zoning code does not allow mobile homes.

Hamrick said Thursday if the city had not created industrial parks, Reidling would have no business of providing low-income housing.

"Where do these workers come from?" Hamrick said. "If it had not been for the city, he would not need to provide (low-income housing)."

But other residents have been more concerned that the annexation would strangle the city’s already struggling school system.

At Thursday’s work session, Planning Director Rusty Ligon read a letter from city school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer stating that the annexation plan could have a detrimental effect on the city school system, which is struggling financially.

Dyer said she was concerned about the "unknown" impact the annexation may have had.

"The pre-eminent concern of Gainesville City Schools is the unexpected, unplanned and unbudgeted impact that additional students could have on a classroom space ..." Dyer wrote.

A previous letter from the city informed the city school board that the potential annexation may have brought as many as 300 new students into the system.

However, Dyer’s letter Thursday stated that since "the Hall County school system did not provide the number of its students residing in the areas proposed for annexation, the potential impact remains unclear to us..."

Dyer said city schools easily could have absorbed 50, but that 200 would stretch the system’s resources too far.

Due to an agreement the city school system made with Hall County in 2007, which lasts through 2018, students in newly annexed areas have the option to remain enrolled in Hall County schools or transfer to Gainesville schools. In that agreement, the systems decided they would meet every odd year in or before January to re-evaluate terms of the contract.

"Our official position was not to take a position. We just had concern," Dyer said of the proposed annexations.

Hall schools superintendent Will Schofield said that in the context of the agreement, he believes the proposed annexations shouldn’t have been a big deal and that county schools largely would have been unaffected by the annexations.

Student growth and transportation issues from the proposed additions could have had a significant impact on the system’s already strained budget, and Dyer said such an influx of new students "wouldn’t help."

Now the annexation issue is one she says she can cross off her list of worries.

"I think it’s probably good news for everyone concerned," she said. "With the economy as it is ... this is a good decision in that it eliminates one more thing we have to face."

Staff writer Jessica Jordan contributed to this story.



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