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Gainesville council OKs annexing islands
Hall County, some affected businesses against the move
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Local pet store owner Kenneth Neidenbach has been in business for 44 years, but after the Gainesville City Council voted to annex his store’s property, he said he didn’t think he would be in business another year.

“With bad business, I can’t afford $1,800 more,” he said, referring to an expected tax increase because of annexation. “I just don’t have it.”

Neidenbach was one of five people who spoke against the city’s plan to annex 115 “island” properties at the council meeting Tuesday evening.

Council members held a public meeting and voted to approve the annexation plan and to approve annexation with the land as it’s currently zoned, with Councilman George Wangemann voting against. A second vote is scheduled for Dec. 18, and the annexation would take effect Jan. 2.

The city said it will waive certain fees next year for the newly annexed, including tap and occupancy fees.

City officials said the annexation is to better define city boundaries and set consistent zoning standards in gateway corridors and commercial areas. According to city documents, annexed county property owners will have to pay a total of about $79,200 more in taxes, if the plan’s approved, starting in 2014. Council members and staff have told property owners concerned about the tax increase that they will pay less in fire insurance and water once they become part of the city.

Gainesville held two public hearings and votes on the plan on Tuesday. The city’s planning and appeals board voted 6 to 1 to recommend against annexation Tuesday morning. Some board members said they didn’t want to force people to annex into the city.

“Annexation can be a good thing, can be a bad thing,” board member Dexter Stanley said. “It reminds me a lot of marriage. It can be good, it can be bad. But an arranged marriage or a forced marriage is wrong. It’s unethical and therefore I can’t support this.”

Neidenbach said he’s been struggling financially and personally since the recession started. The pet store, which was in the city for 39 years until he moved it because of high taxes, is currently located in the Big Lots shopping center. Sales have been off 40 percent for the past four years.

“I had to pay somebody to come in and work for me today and I can’t really even afford anybody right now,” he said.

The owner of the Big Lots shopping center, SC Gainesville Georgia LLC, faces a nearly $16,000 tax increase if the council gives final approval to the annexation. The company’s lawyer, Abb Hayes, said the city violated its own code by not posting annexation notices on the properties and giving notices to adjacent landowners. Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said the city sought legal advice and posting the signs was not feasible or necessary.

“Feasibility is not a component of the law,” Hayes said.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners has filed an objection to the annexation, said Commissioner Scott Gibbs, who attended the council meeting.  He agreed with Arrow Truck Lines CEO Ann Greer that the city’s criteria for choosing property to annex was “arbitrary.”

In other business, the City Council approved creating a tax allocation district around Lakeshore Mall. The Garrison Investment Group plans to invest $21 million to redevelop the retail center.

Tax allocation districts are a way to fund redevelopment of areas that are suffering from urban blight, economic or physical decline and deteriorated infrastructure. Gainesville currently has one TAD for the Midtown district. The TAD, which still needs a second approval from the council, is expected to generate about $2.2 million to finance public infrastructure improvements, including streetscaping, landscaping and signage.

Council members also approved establishing a self-insurance Workers’ Compensation program and awarded a $2.1 million contract to Gary’s Grading & Pipeline Co. Inc. for sewer infrastructure improvements.