KNOXVILLE, Tennessee, October 28, 2015– The subject of annexation has been hotly debated throughout the country over the past few legislative cycles. In Tennessee, property owners just delivered a major blow to municipal government that sought to assume domain over their property.
The practice, which allows city governments to arbitrarily expand its boundaries to usurp domain over unincorporated communities and towns outside of city limits without so much as a single town hall to inform citizens of what is going to happen to their property, has forced many home and business owners to pay new taxes to a city they never wanted to live in. What’s worse, these property owners often receive no new services that their tax dollars are now being used to pay for even though they are now forced to live ‘within’ city limits. In North Carolina, state law doesn’t even allow for property owners to challenge the annexation of their property in any way.
Tennessee was one of four states- which also include Idaho, Indiana, and North Carolina- that allowed “involuntary annexation,” according to the Foundation for Economic Education.
However, a fight took center stage in Tennessee where state legislators successfully fought off city officials that wanted to reserve the power to annex private property for the purposes of increasing local tax revenue without consent of the property owners. State law now prohibits involuntary annexation.
However, cities tried to ignore the new law. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the city tried to subvert the law and continue annexing property without consent. Citizens for Home Rule, Inc. (CHR) was ecstatic to announce that all 182 annexation lawsuits filed on behalf of its members against the City of Knoxville were resolved in favor of the property owners.
“It is a great day for private property owners’ rights and a great day for liberty in Tennessee,” said John Avery Emison, president of CHR. “We’ve worked against forced annexation for many years and winning all 182 cases in one fell swoop says a lot about the value of persistence.”
The Courts have ruled that all those ordinances are “invalid and void as a matter of law.”
Emison said the court orders were signed over a period of a month or more by the three Knox County Chancellors because all three had a large number of forced annexation cases on the docket including Chancellor John F. Weaver, Chancellor Mike Moyers, Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.
Some of the cases are 15 years old, according to Emison. “Most go back to the abusive annexation policies of Mayor Victor Ashe.” A few of the cases originated during Mayor Bill Haslam’s term of office. “It feels really great for the courts to agree that we were right all along and mayors Ashe and Haslam were wrong all along,” Emison said. The City has agreed to pay the court costs and CHR will get all its filing fees back.
CHR expects to make other announcements in coming weeks about annexation litigation in other cities.
CHR’s next battle will be in support of State Rep. Mike Carter’s “De-Annexation” bill before the Tennessee General Assembly in January, which will allow property owners recourse to take their property back out of city-limits. Emison said he hopes de-annexation will be enacted and it could potentially roll back some of the most abusive and irrational annexations of the past.
“We owe a lot to some very good people in the Legislature”, Emison said. “Without the likes of Rep. Mike Carter and Rep. Andy Holt in the state House, and without Sen. Bo Watson and Sen. Frank Niceley in the state Senate, the law ending Forced Annexation would have never passed.”