Ramsey moves to exempt Kingsport from de-annexation

One of the five cities still included in a controversial municipal de-annexation bill may get a reprieve courtesy of the Senate’s most powerful member, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has filed an amendment that would remove Kingsport from the bill, which allows residents of areas annexed into five Tennessee towns and cities since 1998 to petition and then vote to de-annex their areas from their cities. Kingsport is in Ramsey’s Northeast Tennessee district. Another city nearby but not in his district — Johnson City — was amended out just before the bill passed the House of Representatives last Monday.

If the Senate approves the Kingsport amendment, citizens could initiate de-annexation petitions and referendums only in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and tiny Cornersville (pop. 1,191) in Marshall County south of Nashville. The legislation is opposed by officials of Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga — three of the state’s four largest cities — but none more so than Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who has warned that the city could lose up to 111,000 residents if all 10 areas of Memphis eligible to de-annex nder the bill’s provisions follow through with leaving the city.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, questioned the bill’s fairness on March 10 and specifically cited Kingsport’s annexation of the large Colonial Heights community into the city. He said that before Colonial Heights was annexed, it had “raw sewers running into the streets” and that Kingsport made improvements and delivered other municipal services there as promised.

He also told reporters at that time that the bill offers “false hope” to residents who want to de-annex because the bill requires that the property tax bills of de-annexed property continue to include a pro-rata share of the city’s general obligation debt. State Comptroller Justin Wilson encouraged sponsors of the bill to include that provision to protect the cities’ credit and bond ratings.

Ramsey’s amendment removes Kingsport because, unlike the four cities left in the bill, it has a municipal school district.

“The prospect of de-annexation presents a unique set of challenges for cities with municipal school districts,” Ramsey’s spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, said Saturday. “Municipal school districts funded by municipal property tax dollars make strategic zoning decisions and significant brick and mortar investments that cannot easily be undone.

“De-annexation in cities with municipal school districts causes a rapid shift of students from the city school district to the county school district, resulting in overwhelming and ultimately insurmountable fiscal and logistical challenges. In the best interest of the these school systems and the children educated in them, Lt. Governor Ramsey believes the best course of action is to exempt such cities from the bill.