Editorial: Fear should not be the motivation for Seymour incorporation

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:20 PM

If residents of Seymour are going to make their community into a city, they should do so to gain new services and not out of fear that they could be annexed by Sevierville, Knoxville, or any other place without consent or warning.

Incorporate Seymour, which is promoting the move to cityhood, has presented forced annexation as a looming threat to the community.

Spokesman Patrick Doyle remained persistent when the crowd at the group’s second meeting reacted hostilely to the claim. He asked citizens why they thought the cities couldn’t annex them. And, as of Tuesday, the organization’s website included “Annexation is not a threat to Seymour” as a misconception in the community.

While the site itself concedes that neither city currently has plans to annex Seymour, it begs, “Who knows what the future will hold when administrations change(?)”

But a state law passed in 1998 prevents any city from annexing Seymour without either a set of public meetings and changes to Sevier County’s comprehensive growth plan, or a vote by residents of the Seymour community.

The law, Chapter 58 of Title 6 in Tennessee Code Annotated, is specific in saying it’s meant to do away with fear-based incorporation: “With this chapter, the general assembly intends to establish a comprehensive growth policy for this state that eliminates annexation or incorporation out of fear.”

It called for each county to create a committee that included representatives of the county government, each city, the county’s largest privately owned utility, the soil conservation district (to represent agricultural interests), the school board, the largest chamber of commerce, two members appointed by the county mayor and two members appointed by the mayor of the largest city. That group had to agree on a comprehensive growth plan for the county, and that plan had to be approved by the county commission and each of the city governments.

The plan had to include urban growth boundaries — areas the cities would be permitted to grow over a 20-year period.

Inside those urban growth boundaries, the cities could annex by ordinance — by vote of the city’s governing body — without approval by people who lived or owned property in the area.Seymour isn’t in the urban growth boundaries of any city.

Outside the urban growth boundaries, cities can only annex by referendum. 

They would have to make a case for annexation to the residents of the area and hope that a majority of voters approve it in an election.

The county’s comprehensive growth plan could only be modified through reactivation of the committee and going through the same process again.

Most of Seymour is in the county’s planned growth area, — where forced annexation isn’t allowed but incorporation is possible. A portion of what’s largely considered Seymour is in a rural area, where neither annexation nor forced annexation are possible.

So under the law, for Sevierville or another city inside Sevier County to annex into Seymour, they would either need to get Seymour residents to approve the annexation by referendum, or get the county’s growth plan changed.

A city in another county, like Knoxville or Maryville, would have to get approval from Sevier County Commission and pass a referendum of residents to annex inside the county as well.

Currently, the state has a moratorium on all forced annexations, and a bill being considered by the General Assembly would make that restriction permanent.

The law just doesn’t allow for the forced annexation of Seymour. The threat isn’t real.

A reason a community should consider incorporation is to provide additional services that residents aren’t getting from the county.

While adding zoning regulations, a parks and recreation department and trash pickup are trumpeted as reasons Seymour should make the change, those things don’t come without cost, and those numbers haven’t been provided.

While Incorporate Seymour has presented a budget and a potential tax rate, it has not outlined any detailed financial plan for services the city would provide. 

Incorporate Seymour’s spokespeople have said they want to form a city government first, and leave it up to the people to decide later what services they’d like.

That’s not how we think this should work. People should know, when they decide to form a government, what services will be provided from inception.  If people don’t know those up front — and whether they are fiscally viable — incorporation is not the right step.

Seymour residents don’t have to incorporate due to fear of annexation. And until they know solid details on what they’ll get and how much it will cost them, they shouldn’t be asked to vote to create a new government.

The supporters of annexation should focus on selling the benefits of incorporation, with a well-researched cost/benefit analysis, and ease up on pushing the dire predictions of forced annexations.