Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras wants residents concerned about a proposed annexation of "island" properties to take their questions to the city’s staff.
"City staff is open and willing. We cover nothing up," Figueras said during the council’s meeting Tuesday. "We give you the naked truth."
The City Council is scheduled to vote Sept. 1 on a proposed annexation of approximately 60 "island" properties along major entrances to the city.
The city proposed the annexation in June as an effort to create uniform zoning standards in the mostly commercial properties lining the city’s "gateway" corridors.
The proposal has sparked opposition from the Hall County Board of Commissioners, which voted last week to fight the annexation "administratively and judicially" after
holding an hourlong public hearing on the matter.
But Tuesday morning, Commissioner Ashley Bell attended the city’s meeting to say he hoped the two governments could reach an agreement out of court. Bell was the only commissioner at last week’s county meeting to vote against the threat to sue the city over the annexation.
"I don’t really see it has any merit," Bell said.
Bell, whose county commission district covers Gainesville, said he plans to keep up communication between the county commission and the city to keep the two groups out of court.
"I think it would serve all the taxpayers well, because city of Gainesville residents, as the mayor says all the time, are Hall County residents," Bells aid. "And for you to sue the city of Gainesville is like suing yourself, because everybody’s still got to pay a bill for it."
Later in the same meeting, City Manager Kip Padgett asked Community Development Director Rusty Ligon to address some of the concerns raised at the county meeting, such as an accusation from county commission Chairman Tom Oliver that the city is using a state law that allows cities to annex their unincorporated islands to "cherry-pick" the properties with the highest tax value.
Ligon said the methodology for the proposed annexations requires properties to meet two criteria: The properties must be part of an unincorporated island and fall within the city’s gateway overlay zone.
"If they weren’t, they were left out of this request," Ligon said.
Ligon said the benefits to annexation into the city are a 50 percent reduction in water rate, a 4 percent reduction in sewer rate and a lower fire insurance rating.
"So you can see some savings there in property insurance by a lower (fire insurance) rating," Ligon said.
And, according to Ligon, business owners at the Big Lots shopping center on Browns Bridge Road, an "island" property also up for annexation, already are benefitting from city services: two traffic signals and a road that is maintained with city tax dollars.
Councilman Danny Dunagan said that if the annexations are approved, the council likely will wait until January 2010 to include those properties in the city’s limits and the city’s tax digest. The delayed effective date would give property owners another year to adjust to the higher property taxes, Dunagan said.
"All this is if it is approved," Figueras said.