The purpose of annexation in Harlem might be to bring people together to expand the city's boundaries. But at a Monday night public meeting, the dividing lines were clear.
Marvin George, a Columbia County resident who lives close to Harlem's border, speaks against annexation during a Monday night meeting in the auditorium of Harlem Middle School.
Photo by Preston Sparks
"You've got about as much a chance of annexing my land as getting a frog on the moon,'' Marvin George, a Columbia County resident who lives near Harlem's city limits off Campbell's Crossing, said Monday to Harlem Mayor Scott Dean.
George was one of many people who had questions and some sharp comments for Dean at the final countywide public forum on Harlem's annexation proposal. More than 100 people packed into Harlem Middle School's auditorium for the meeting.
People had questions about how an area could be annexed and how annexation would affect their property and their taxes. Some were in favor of annexation, but several said they had strong concerns about the issue.
Dean used the meeting, which was for information purposes, to spell out exactly what the city hopes to do and how it could go about it. He said that even though they would have to pay a city and county tax, 90 percent of those who could be annexed would probably save money in the transition because a resident's water bill is cut in half and trash pickup is less expensive in the city.
Dean also said that if negotiations with the county over fire services aren't settled by the beginning of next year, annexation into Harlem would ensure residents fire service from a closer fire station.
"The county doesn't even plan on having a station south of Harlem,'' he said, adding that if a fire station isn't close to a home, the homeowner's insurance could double.
If the county couldn't make it in time, though, Dean said Harlem firefighters would respond.
A few homeowners in the audience, however, said they think their taxes will increase in the city.
Another man in the audience said annexation was "a done deal.''
"It's not a done deal,'' Dean responded. "I can tell you that just based on the (meeting's) turnout.''
Dean said annexation is up to the landowners and that it's an effort to give Harlem a greater voice in the county by increasing its population.
"Cities do one of two things - either grow or they die,'' he said. "We're trying to get a voice to this area that we haven't had.''
According to state law, Dean said, annexation can occur only if one of two things happens: Either 100 percent of an area's residents agree with the annexation or 60 percent of the landowners representing 60 percent of the land sign on.
Dean said he prefers the 60-60 approach. "If there's an area 100 percent against us, we're not going to waste our time,'' he said.
Dean also rebutted an unsigned letter that has been distributed through the outlying areas of Harlem about the negatives of annexation.
"It got people here,'' he said of the letter. "But everything I do I put my name on. I think you ought to put your name to what you put out there.''
Dean said that among other things, the letter incorrectly told people the city might rezone new residents' property.
"We don't rezone property,'' he said. "That has to come from a citizen to rezone.''
Justin Smith, a county resident, said the idea of annexation sounded good to him.
"By annexing with Harlem, you have a voice,'' he told the night's crowd. "I have run the numbers on my property. I essentially break even.''
Although no dates have been set, Dean said the city plans to meet with individual neighborhoods on the issue. He said it could take months before any annexation could occur.
"Annexation is not a fast process,'' he said.
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