Salisbury Council Seeks Specifics Before Deciding On Annexation

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council decided this week to gather more information about a proposed property annexation along Route 50 before putting anything final in ink.

The proposal generated a number of questions and concerns and the council asked City Attorney Mark Tilghman to review the information about all of the properties connected to the annexation.

“I think that we need to go into this with our eyes wide open and understand what we agree to on behalf of the city,” said Council President Terry Cohen.

The original proposal for annexation of 149 acres from the estate of Florence Moore was first reviewed on March 10, 2010. While it has progressed through Planning Commission reviews regularly since then, the council asked Monday that a series of questions be answered before the proposal goes further. One glaring issue, according to several councilmembers, is that more than just the Moore property is set to be annexed but that the council doesn’t have enough details on the other land parcels.

The properties are located to the east of the city and south of Route 50. The land runs from the Routes 113 and 50 interchange east to Walston Switch Road.

“For some of these, there’s a pre-annexation agreement,” said Cohen. “For others there aren’t.”

According to Cohen, in most annexation proposals the agreements are clear, which is not the case this time. Cohen had several questions that she wanted answered, including the legality of restricting the zoning of some of the properties being annexed into the city.

Council Vice President Debbie Campbell had similar questions and also had concerns about how the group of properties split the advertising cost required for the annexation. She pointed out that if some properties had managed to have that cost waived as part of their conditions for being annexed than the cost could fall onto their neighbors, who made no such clause in their pre-annexation agreements.

“So they would pay more than they would have paid if no one got a waiver?” she asked.

There was also some confusion about owners asking for some property taxes to be waived as part of their pre-annexation agreements.

Any previous agreements made, Cohen said, the council would like to honor in regards to waiving taxes as part of annexation. However, she pointed out that it is only fair to do so in situations where the parameters are crystal clear.

“Because we wanted to honor what went before but if we didn’t have a legally binding exemption there, then we didn’t want to give a legally binding exemption because depending on what’s done with the property … you can do things with properties that would then require services of the city,” Cohen said.

The properties could need everything from water and sewer service to fire and police protection, which Cohen noted should be paid for by a property’s inclusion on the tax roll.

Another thing that bothered Campbell was the lack of information on the owners behind the land.

“It’s certainly important for the council to know which parcels are being annexed,” she said, citing fears of unknowingly entering into conflicts of interest.

Councilmember Shanie Shields told her colleagues that she didn’t have an issue with other properties being annexed into Salisbury at the same time as the Moore property but admitted that she was surprised by the whole situation. Shields did agree with Campbell that the advertising costs shouldn’t fall on only the property owners unlucky enough not to make a waiver of that fee part of a pre-annexation agreement.

“I hope [the cost] should be divided,” she said.

Shields’ overriding worry, though, was that excessive examination into the annexation properties could cause a big delay in approving the Moore parcel.

“These people have done a lot of legwork,” she said, adding that the other properties were not her main concern at the moment.

In response to Shields’ objections that the other properties might anchor the Moore parcel, City Administrator John Pick explained that it would be best to annex all of the proposed properties in one chunk.

“They’re a contiguous group of parcels that we can annex and I think should annex,” he said.

Pick promised Shields that reviewing the other properties won’t slow down the process since his office will be able to provide Tilghman with all of the information he needs this week. For his part, Tilghman told the council that he should have everything reviewed by the end of this month or the beginning of December.

After everything is reviewed, Tilghman explained that the council will be faced with a few choices.

“They have petitioned with certain conditions that you may accept or refuse,” he said of the properties. “The council just needs to make decisions about what it’s willing to do for the Moore annexation.”