Should Ramseur adopt ETJ?

What’s all this talk about ETJ and why does one of our commissioners want to add “outside citizens” – people who don’t live or pay property taxes in Ramseur – to the planning board? That was the main question on my mind when I left the regular January meeting of our board of commissioners. So I went back and watched the video of the December meeting again to see what I’d missed.

[NOTE: I embedded the video from the Town of Ramseur’s YouTube page below, but as you can see, the video owner – Town of Ramseur – has disabled playback anywhere but on YouTube. Not my circus.]

The work of managing our town’s affairs is overwhelming the administrative staff, and one commissioner has convinced his fellow board members that the solution is for the town to adopt ETJ and change the composition of our planning board.

We’ll get to those changes in a bit, but first, what is ETJ?

ETJ stands for extraterritorial jurisdiction. It is an area outside a municipality’s corporate limits in which the city can exercise land use and zoning regulations. 

“When a city adopts an extraterritorial-boundary ordinance, the city acquires jurisdiction for all of its ordinances adopted under Chapter 160D, and the county loses its jurisdiction for the same range of ordinances. This includes not only zoning and subdivision ordinances but also housing and building codes and regulations on historic districts and historic landmarks, open spaces, community development, erosion and sedimentation control, floodways, mountain ridges, and roadway corridors.”

How does adopting ETJ do us any good today? All I can see it doing for the moment is adding to the almost $224,000 we’re budgeted to spend this year on contracted and professional services and administrative salaries.  A little over $100,000 of that pays for our code enforcement/planning consultants, legal counsel, and any other consultants advising our clerk/finance officer and her staff. Some of that money would be better spent on a town manager.

According to comments made by Commissioner Parrish at the December and January board meetings, our local ordinances specified that our planning board is to be composed of five members. Chapter 160D of North Carolina General Statutes mandates a minimum of three members for such a board but otherwise leaves it to the discretion of local governments to decide how many members to appoint, and where those members can live.

Prior to the adoption of the commissioner’s amendment, which passed 4-0, only people residing within the municipal limits of Ramseur were eligible to sit on our planning board. Now, anyone living within one mile of town limits can be appointed and vote on our planning board’s decisions. Seems like that cart is way out in front of the horse.

The first justification we’ll likely hear for this change will be ‘nobody wants to serve’ so let’s stop for a moment and consider why it seems like no one stays on any board in this town for long. Since I moved into town in late 2014, eighteen different people have occupied the five seats on our board of commissioners. Eighteen different commissioners in less than ten years.

If we had replaced every commissioner in every municipal election held here since 2015, that would only have been ten individuals. Turnover on the planning board has been about as bad; maybe worse. My wife applied to fill an open seat in 2016 and was turned away. She’d have done well. In early 2020 I had a seat on the planning board for a few months, and I’d be happy to tell you why I quit.

The planning board is an insult to every citizen of Ramseur and will remain such until its chairman resigns. He lives in Greensboro, in Guilford County, and he has for years. He’s gotten away with it by claiming to live here on his voter registration, and probably on his driver’s license, and the fact that he owns a couple of rented houses on Bush Street.

Everyone connected to our local government knows this and has known for longer than I can remember. I refused to sit on that board while every elected official in town looked the other way at what I consider a crime on par with voter fraud.

Less than a month ago one of our elected commissioners convinced his fellow board members to alter the administrative ordinances of our town so people living up to one mile outside town can have a voice in our local government. Those folks are more than welcome to initiate voluntary satellite annexation. Pay taxes here like the rest of us; that’s how you get to have a voice in Ramseur.

The government we have today is every bit as dysfunctional as it was before the 2019 election, and in some ways, it may even be worse. This is why we can’t get better leaders to step forward in our community. Nobody wants to serve in elected or appointed office in Ramseur, because it’s not worth the heartache and misery.

A commissioner says our administrative staff is overworked and all the experts he talks to tell him that planning and zoning administration is usually done by a town manager. Those same experts also told him that under no circumstances should planning and zoning be administered by the chief financial officer. I could not agree more. Both jobs are far too important, time-consuming, and complicated for one individual to try to fill both roles.

Below I have copied the most relevant text from Chapter 160D, the statute the mayor and attorney Wilhoit regularly reference in board meetings when discussing planning, zoning, and code enforcement issues. I have tried to edit the text in such a way that you can easily read through it and understand what the state requires without wading through mountains of text irrelevant to our town. Other than the section headings, all bolding and CAPITALIZATION below are mine. You can compare the original text by clicking HERE.

Begin quoted text:

  • 160D-202.  Municipal extraterritorial jurisdiction.

(a)    Any city MAY exercise the powers granted to cities under this Chapter within a defined area extending not more than one mile beyond its contiguous corporate limitsPursuant to G.S. 160A-58.4, extraterritorial municipal planning and development regulation may be extended only from the primary corporate boundary of a city and not from the boundary of satellite areas of the city.

(d)   Any municipality proposing to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction under this Chapter SHALL notify the owners of all parcels of land proposed for addition to the area of extraterritorial jurisdiction, as shown on the county tax records. The notice SHALL be sent by first-class mail to the last addresses listed for affected property owners in the county tax records. The notice SHALL inform the landowner of the effect of the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction, of the landowner’s RIGHT to participate in a LEGISLATIVE HEARING PRIOR TO ADOPTION of any ordinance extending the area of extraterritorial jurisdiction, as provided in G.S. 160D-601, and of the RIGHT of all residents of the area TO APPLY to the board of COUNTY COMMISSIONERS to serve as a representative on the planning board and the board of adjustment, as provided in G.S. 160D-303. The notice shall be mailed at least 30 days prior to the date of the hearing

(e)    Any council exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction under this Chapter SHALL adopt an ordinance specifying the areas to be included based upon existing or projected urban development and areas of critical concern to the city, as evidenced by officially adopted plans for its development… Boundaries shall be defined, to the extent feasible, in terms of geographical features identifiable on the ground [and] may follow parcel ownership boundaries

(f)    The county MAY, ON REQUEST of the city council, exercise any or all of these powers in any or all areas lying within the city’s corporate limits or within the city’s specified area of extraterritorial jurisdiction.

  • 160D-307.  Extraterritorial representation on boards.

(a)    When a city elects to exercise extraterritorial powers under this Chapter, it SHALL provide a means of proportional representation based on population for residents of the extraterritorial area to be regulatedRepresentation shall be provided by appointing AT LEAST ONE resident of the entire extraterritorial planning and development regulation area to the planning board [and the] board of adjustment.

(b)    The extraterritorial representatives on a city advisory boardSHALL be appointed by the board of COUNTY commissioners with jurisdiction over the area. The COUNTY SHALL make the appointments within 90 days following the receipt of a request from the city that the appointments be made…If a board of county commissioners fails to make these appointments within 90 days AFTER receiving a resolution from the city council requesting that they be made, the city council MAY make them. 

  • 160D-308.  Rules of procedure.

Rules of procedure that are consistent with the provisions of this Chapter MAY be adopted by the governing board for any or all boards created under this Article. In the absence of action by the governing board, each board created under this Article is AUTHORIZED to adopt its own rules of procedure that are consistent with the provisions of this Chapter. A copy of ANY adopted rules of procedure SHALL be maintained by the local government CLERK or such other official as DESIGNATED BY ORDINANCE and POSTED on the local government Web site if one exists. Each board SHALL keep minutes of its proceedings. 

  • 160D-310.  Appointments to boards.

Unless specified otherwise by statute or local ordinance, all appointments to boards authorized by this Chapter shall be made by the governing board of the local government. The governing board MAY establish reasonable procedures to solicit, review, and make appointments

  • 160D-402.  Administrative staff.

(c)    A local government MAY enter into CONTRACTS WITH another city, COUNTY, or combination thereof under which the parties agree to create a joint staff for the enforcement of State and local laws specified in the agreement.

End quoted text.

ETJ is a lengthy and expensive process that needs to be played out over several months or years. Chapter 160D allows us to partner with our county government to share the costs of code enforcement. In fact, we already do that to an extent; building inspections and animal control are examples of services the county provides through contracts with Ramseur.

If we decide to adopt ETJ, now or in the future, the statutes outlined above contain a process for adding proportional representation from ETJ to our planning board, at the appropriate time, and without rewriting of our administrative ordinances. Ramseur is free to contract with the county for zoning and code enforcement, and I’d wager it could be done for less money than we’d pay a small army of consultants.

It might be wise for Ramseur to study ETJ and perhaps one day adopt some, but we have much bigger issues to face and decisions to make today. As for the ordinance amendment that opened up voting seats on our planning board to non-residents of Ramseur, that horse needs to be put back in the barn, now.

That’s not how any of this works, and in my next post, I’ll explain why, and how it should.

Town manager = continuity & stability

Several years ago my neighbor and I were on his front porch talking with then-Captain Presley of the Ramseur police department. While we were there someone drove past at well over the safe speed for our little residential street. Captain Presley explained to us that if signs were posted on our street he would be able to enforce a speed limit, so my neighbors and I requested signs. Several years later, after Jim McIntosh was elected to the board of commissioners, we finally got them. Unfortunately, higher-priority calls rarely leave time for police officers to linger in residential areas long enough to catch anyone speeding.

There are, of course, other ways we could address the speeding problem that do not require additional law enforcement, but this article isn’t about speeders on Church Street or the admirable job Chief Presley does with the limited manpower we can afford to give him. To enforce ordinances we need to make people aware of them, and the best way to make drivers aware of a law is to post signs.

Back in 2019, then-Commissioner Randy Cox brought the board a proposed ordinance prohibiting truck drivers from using a loud braking method, commonly called Jake braking, inside town limits. The board of commissioners approved that ordinance.

A few months after that we had an election and Ramseur voters chose three new commissioners and a new mayor. The new mayor was then a commissioner with two years left in her term, so by early 2020 four new commissioners had been seated. We also hired a new town clerk/finance officer around the same time.

It’s never been the mayor’s job to keep up with administrative tasks, at least not according to the state legislature, and while a case could be made that it is the clerk’s job, she’s got a very full plate.

As far as I know, that anti-Jake braking ordinance is still on the books, but it seems to have been forgotten. No signs have ever been posted and without signs, it can’t be enforced. The new board members and administrative staff had much bigger issues to deal with when they took office almost three and a half years ago, but the fact remains; our board of commissioners passed an ordinance intended to make life in Ramseur a little more pleasant and the ball got dropped.

Almost every weekday morning between 6:30 and 7 A.M. a big truck rolls up Coleridge Road from south of town. The driver starts Jake braking around Foushee Road and continues all the way to at least Carter or Liberty Street. It’s so consistent – same distance, about the same time, almost every day – that it seems deliberate, and without posted signs, there’s not much police can do about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I live far enough off that road that we barely hear it inside our house, but I’d sure hate it if my home was up there on Coleridge Road, especially if I wasn’t an early riser.

This issue is yet another prime example of why we need a town manager; not an administrator, a manager.

A town manager provides consistency no matter what changes voters may make to the board of commissioners every two years, and a manager’s position is much harder for any board of commissioners to do away with than an administrator’s. All municipalities need that continuity and stability, and that is why most towns across North Carolina, large and small, have adopted the manager/council form of government.

City and county commissioners are elected to make policy decisions for others to carry out. In most places, responsibility for that “carrying out” falls upon a manager’s shoulders, and then filters down to department heads and employees.

Commissioners should never be expected to manage the day-to-day operations of a town; especially not for the $150 per month we pay ours. That’s why we must update our town’s corporate charter and hire a professional manager. The price of failing to do so is simply too high.