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?
“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 limits… Pursuant 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 regulated… Representation 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 board … SHALL 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.