Annexation powers

June 20, 2009 

Those seeking to abolish North Carolina's 50-year old policy permitting involuntary annexation by municipalities often claim to be engaged in a constitutional battle. It is undemocratic, they say, for cities to annex contiguous areas if citizens living in those areas are not given a decisive, pre-annexation vote. They are wrong.

First, the only constitutional provision remotely implicated is the Fifth Amendment, which, while protecting due process, specifically allows the taking of private property for a public use (more consequential than residential annexation) -- without any vote or prior approval by the property owner.

Second, nearly all substantial local government actions are taken without obtaining advance, direct approval of the affected public. Not only is that the case with eminent domain (noted above), it is the accepted democratic method for a host of other actions directly impacting local property owners. Think of tax assessments, traffic regulations, zoning ordinances (including the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction over contiguous areas under North Carolina law, often a precursor to annexation), the approval of abutting building projects, and the alignment or realignment of specific communities and neighborhoods for inclusion in various voting districts.

Carl R. Ramey,

Pinehurst

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