Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras tried to assure about 80 affected property owners Monday that a proposed annexation of their properties will eliminate confusion when it comes to emergency calls.
But those who gathered at the city’s Civic Center for the final information meeting about a proposed annexation of 561 properties made it clear they were content with where their property sits now — in an unincorporated county island.
Figueras said when tornadoes hit the Big Lots shopping center on Browns Bridge Road in late August, Gainesville emergency vehicles arrived to the shopping center first but had to wait for permission from the county’s emergency services crews to begin relief efforts.
"What the city needs to do is to try to define its boundaries," she said. "... It’s so, so, so important so that all of our citizens — be you city or county — are taken care of in a timely manner."
Yet many residents said they had never had a problem with emergency responses to their home, and that the police and fire departments always showed up when they were called.
One resident, Jerry Castleberry, said the proposed mass annexation, which will eliminate "islands" of unincorporated Hall County in the city limits, sounded like the federal bailout.
"Bankers created a problem, asked us to bail them out," Castleberry said. "The city created this problem and comes to us to bail them out. It’s just not right."
Even the benefits of the annexation — lower water and sewer rates, twice a week trash pick up and a discount at Gainesville Parks and Recreation facilities — did not entice those at the meeting.
City Council has yet to come to a decision on the annexation, interim City Manager Kip Padgett told the crowd of about 80 that gathered at the Gainesville Civic Center Monday night.
"This is not a done deal," Padgett said.
Figueras also said that the meetings were for affected property owners to learn about what might happen to their properties and told them that she and City Councilman Danny Dunagan were there to learn, too.
But many affected property owners said they felt they had no choice in the matter, and called the information meetings just a formality.
"I feel like you’ve got your mind made up," said Shane Reidling, who owns a mobile home park on McConnell Drive.
Many of those in the room applauded Reidling’s statement, and state Rep. James Mills, called the proposal to annex the properties "socialism."
He told the city officials that although state law allows municipalities to annex islands in their city limits, it does not state that municipalities must annex county islands.
"Under this proposal ... you’re not asking people, you’re forcing people," Mills said. "To me, that is a socialistic government."