Chattanooga will get a little bigger in January, but the city's new residents aren’t happy about it.
A last-ditch effort to halt a scheduled annexation failed Tuesday evening when City Council members upheld the decision of their predecessors and a legal settlement negotiated by the city and residents last year.
As a result, the annexation of the 606-acre suburban area will go into effect at the end of this year.
The area encompasses the Ramsgate subdivision and a handful of smaller neighborhoods off Hixson Pike. Almost all of the homeowners there signed petitions in October voicing their opposition to the city’s annexation effort, which began in 2009, records show.
Councilman Ken Smith proposed the ordinance to deannex the area but will soon represent the area.
"I think we should be taking care of what we have before we expand our borders," he said after the vote. Annexation "makes sense where a city has an economic interest in the development of an area."
Areas slated for commercial or industrial development are prime candidates for annexation, he said, but in this case, "It’s all residential."
Smith’s ordinance was the only legal path to block the pending annexation, a city attorney said.
Smith said the financial impact of expanding the city’s services compared to the projected tax revenue should have been reason enough for his colleagues to approve the proposal.
Phil Noblett, assistant city attorney, provided updated financial estimates Tuesday evening. The city will collect approximately $1.1 million in annual property tax revenue. The cost of infrastructure improvements is at least $2 million—an amount that could double once a new fire station that would serve the surrounding area is taken into account. The neighborhoods’ population is 1,310.
The new financial estimates are the result of the area’s long, litigious history since the annexation effort began, Noblett said.
Eleven residents and the Ramsgate Homeowners Association sued Chattanooga in 2009 to block the city’s move to expand its borders. After years of litigation, residents agreed to a settlement that would allow the annexation to proceed and take effect at the end of this year.
Noblett told council members that the deannexation ordinance would set a bad precedent if it were approved. He urged council members to vote against the proposal and let the annexation continue.
"My concern is that any person in the city could say they don’t want to pay city taxes anymore and get out," he said. "And if you start that, it’s a question of where do you stop?"
Council members Chris Anderson, Carol Berz, Moses Freeman, Russell Gilbert and Yusuf Hakeem agreed.
Berz and Gilbert were on the council when former Mayor Ron Littlefield proposed the initial annexation push in 2009. The City Council eventually approved about a dozen annexations. The controversial decisions were opposed by many of the affected homeowners. Residents’ property taxes would nearly double once they were brought onto the city’s tax rolls.
George Cromie, a retiree, said Tuesday that he and his wife live on a fixed income. His tax bill will increase by $1,200 next year once the annexation goes into effect.
"At no time during this process were we personally asked if we were interested in being annexed," he told council members.
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