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Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:17

Maggie man wants out in bid to undo annexation

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A Maggie Valley man wants to extract himself from the town limits, claiming the services he gets from the town don’t warrant the taxes he pays.

He stands to save $2,450 a year in town property taxes if successful in wresting his three-acre gated mountaintop tract out of Maggie Valley’s town limits.

Joe Manascalco has cleared the first hurdle in the two-step process. He won support from a majority of Maggie Valley town leaders to remove his property from the town’s borders. Redrawing the town limits to de-annex someone’s property also requires a special vote of the General Assembly in Raleigh, a step Manascalco must tackle next.

Maggie leaders were narrowly split on the issue when it came before them last month, approving the request by a 3-to-2 vote.

Mayor Ron DeSimone thinks the vote to de-annex Manascalco was bad policy. DeSimone called the decision “nebulous, contradictory and inconsistent.” DeSimone believes the aldermen who went along with Manascalco’s request did so because of their philosophical views concerning annexation rather than the facts of Manascalco’s actual situation.

“There is a big difference between agreeing or disagreeing with forced annexation and going back and dismantling something that was done,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone said it also opens the doors for other residents to ask to be de-annexed.

“I think it was a mistake,” he said.

DeSimone warned the board they would be opening Pandora’s box by granting Manascalco’s request.

Indeed, two more residents have stepped up in the past month asking to be de-annexed as well. One appeared simply to be making a point by putting forward a tongue-in-cheek request. The second had originally asked to be annexed in order to get on town sewer, but once they got on the sewer lines, wants to be de-annexed.

But Alderman Phil Aldridge, who supported Manascalco’s request, said the town would just have to “weed out” the illegitimate ones as they come in.

In Manascalco’s case, Aldridge believes he was wrongly brought into the town limits in the first place. It is at the top of a steep, one-lane road and is difficult to provide services to.

“The road will never meet the town’s standards. When a snow plow or garbage truck goes up that road, it has to back all the way back down,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge agreed with DeSimone on one front: he isn’t a fan of forced annexation.

“I have always been against forced annexation,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge questioned whether the town annexed Manascalco because it saw dollar signs.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Aldridge said. “Quit taking in these areas just because they have a half-million home on them.”

The rest of the subdivision where Manascalco lives, Evergreen Heights, was annexed into the town limits at the same time.

“When we annex subdivisions, it is usually the entire subdivision not just part of the subdivision,” said Town Manager Tim Barth.

 

A tale of annexation

Manascalco’s property hasn’t been in the town limits long. His property was brought into town in 2009 as part of a large-scale annexation. Seven different residential pockets and subdivisions — totaling 166 acres and more than 130 homes — were part of the annexation that year.

Barth said the goal of the 2009 annexation was to bring those who were already on town sewer officially into the town limits.

“The request was to try to annex as many of the people who had sewer as possible,” Barth said.

Aldridge said simply being on town sewer isn’t justification to annex someone. There are 400 people on town sewer that aren’t in the town limits, and the town isn’t going after those people, Aldridge said.

Manascalco’s property is known locally as “the compound.” He lives at the top of a mountain, up a one-lane road that dead-ends at a gate across his driveway. Two pillars flank the road on the approach to his property, with a sign on one alerting people they have entered a private drive.

There is nowhere to turn around without going through the gate, so the town’s trash truck had to back down the road after reaching his gate. The trashmen didn’t have a problem doing that, Barth said.

But, Manascalco said he didn’t think it was safe and told the town to stop picking up his trash last year.

“He said he didn’t want garbage service,” Barth said.

The town offered to have trash trucks come through the gate and turn around, but Manascalco didn’t want to provide a key.

DeSimone found it ironic that Manascalco canceled town trash pick-up then complained he wasn’t getting town services.

When DeSimone drove up to Manascalco’s property to get a lay of the land before voting on the issue, he encountered a propane truck — backing up no less.

“This is the mountains,” DeSimone said. “People have to back up all over the place.”

Town snowplows did not plow the road because it was considered a private street, even though it was in the town limits.

In addition to trash pick-up, being a town resident gets you police protection, which Manascalco will continue to receive even if he isn’t on the tax rolls.

Technically, property outside the town limits is under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s office. But if there were an emergency, Maggie town cops would respond since they are naturally going to be closer.

 

Annexation a can of worms

Ultimately, Manascalco’s de-annexation claims come down to a technicality.

The town only can target urban or suburban areas for annexation. Annexed areas essentially must be meet the definition of being “in town” — as opposed to farmland or large empty tracts.

There’s a litmus test to ensure towns don’t unfairly target large tracts, simply sucking up property taxes without providing services to many residents in return. The law says 60 percent of both the total area and total number of tracts being annexed have to be fewer than three acres.

At the time Manascalco’s property was annexed, it was listed as three separate lots, each a little more than an acre.

But he believes his property should have been considered for annexation purposes as a single lot of 3.5 acres rather than three separate ones.

“He believes, even though they weren’t combined at the time, they should have been considered one lot because he owned all three of them and had no plans to sell any of them,” Barth said. “But we don’t know that and didn’t know that at the time.”

DeSimone doubts Manascalco’s chances of getting a de-annexation bill passed in Raleigh are very good. A bill would have to be introduced and passed in both the state House and Senate in order to go forward. Whether legislators from the mountains would be willing to expend their political capital to rectify Manascalco’s plight isn’t known.

“That is not likely to happen. These bills have been somewhat cantankerous,” DeSimone said.

Maggie Valley has steadily increased its town limits during the past three decades. In the 1970s, Maggie Valley was nothing but a strip of motels, restaurants and gift shops — the town limits draw like a long skinny snake along the main commercial drag. It had only a few dozen actual residents.

But as mountainside subdivisions sprung up around Maggie, giving rise to both a seasonal and year-round population, the town limits expanded to bring the newfound residential population into its fold.

The way town leaders saw it, the town’s infrastructure was being maxed by the burgeoning residential population cropping up all around it but not contributing their fair share through property taxes.

The annexations were nearly always fought by residents who thought they were getting a raw deal. The town services they got weren’t worth the taxes they paid, opponents claimed.

DeSimone’s own neighborhood was annexed into the town limits of Maggie Valley during the past decade. DeSimone said the majority of those in his subdivision are now glad they are in the town limits, however.

 

De-annexation request follows small campaign contribution

Two Maggie Valley aldermen who voted to de-annex Joe Manascalco had gotten a modest campaign contribution from him in the last election.

Aldermen Phil Aldridge and Phillip Wight voted to de-annex Manascalco after receiving a $200 shared campaign contribution. The contribution was also to be shared by Mayor Ron DeSimone, although he voted against Manascalco’s request when it came up last month.

Manascalco had donated $200 to Aldridge, DeSimone and Wight in the fall election. The three ran as a team, putting all three of their names on signs and brochures.

While Manascalco gave the $200 to Aldridge, according to campaign finance reports filed in the Haywood County Board of Elections office, it was shared equally by the three for campaign literature.

“Joe said, ‘Make sure everybody gets this.’ It was all put into one pile and shared in one kitty,” Aldridge said.

Aldridge said the political donation from Manascalco played no role in how he voted on the de-annexation.

“It was $200,” Aldridge said, pointing out the sum is way too small for anyone to honestly think it could be considered a bribe.

Aldridge said he “honestly felt in my heart” that Manascalco had been treated unfairly four years ago.

The donation obviously didn’t influence DeSimone, since he voted against Manascalco’s request.

This is not the first time Aldridge and DeSimone have been at odds after having run on the same ticket.

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