Three mayors urge defeat of deannexation bill

The mayors of Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga presented a united front against the deannexation bill in a state Senate committee Wednesday, warning it could destabilize cities’ finances and hurt recruitment of new businesses, reports the News Sentinel.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke sat together at a witness table before the State and Local Government Committee to voice their objections to a bill that would allow residents of areas annexed into cities since 1998 to call referendums for deannexation — and then separate from their cities if approved by a majority of voters in those areas.

But in his questioning of the mayors, Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, said some residents want to leave cities they were annexed into against their will, without a vote, and he likened annexation to forcible takeovers of one nation by another.

“When you think of a city going out and, just on its own, taking land from someone else — to me that’s almost like Russia going in and taking Poland and adding it to the Soviet Union,” Green said. “I really see those as pretty close. When people don’t want to be brought into the city and are forcibly brought in so the city can have a better tax base, I find that egregious. And that’s a big part of why this bill is so emotional for a lot of people right now.”

Rogero said Knoxville officials have identified about 500 residential properties that could leave the city under the bill’s provisions.

“They represent about $600,000 a year in property taxes. That is the equivalent of about a penny and a half on our property tax rate — very small compared to our friends in Memphis, but certainly not insignificant,” she said.

The Knoxville mayor said she supports some provisions of the bill — such as requiring approval of residents for city-initiated deannexation and authority for cities to annex territory not contiguous to their existing borders — which she said could benefit economic development.

“But I am troubled and frankly very confused by the sections allowing elective deannexations in a handful of specific cities. The obvious question is why — why these five cities out of more than 300 in the state?” she asked.

The version of the bill approved by the House on March 14 limits deannexation to Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Kingsport and tiny Cornersville in Marshall County, where the bill says annexations over the past 20 years were “the most egregious.”

“The language in the House bill indicates they were chosen because of ‘egregious annexations,’ but it offers no detail or evidence of what constitutions ‘egregious,’ ” Rogero said.

Note: After the mayors’ testimony, the Senate committee approved amendments to the bill — most notably one that makes it apply to all cities in the state, not just the five designated by the House. If that stands, the House and Senate will be at loggerheads on scope of the measure.