The Scattershot Effect

Last night’s passage of HB779 by the Tennessee House brought to light some features of the bill that I was previously unaware of, and some problems that will most certainly result if the bill is passed.

Here’s Rep. Carter speaking on two features of the bill that haven’t gotten a lot of play in the media.

Ed. Note:The clip is about 3 minutes long, but the video doesn’t stop on its own for some reason.

Sunsets

A couple of thoughts about the sunset provisions:

First, it is a good thing that this bill sunsets in 3 years. That certainly does reduce the amount of time that Memphis and other cities would have to be in a holding pattern while neighborhoods organize to leave the city.

Second, the ‘one and done’ provision is also a good thing. This basically gives the organizers of any de-annexation effort one shot to get it done. If, for instance, an effort were to fail in November, the city would know that area is safe from being de-annexed (theoretically).

Unfortunately, there’s nothing stopping a future legislator from writing a bill that would change those provisions in the future. If they can change nearly 200 years of standard land use practice, they can sure as hell change 3 years without even giving it a second thought.

I understand that all legislation is subject to change at any time, but these sunsets give a false sense of security to the impacted cities.

Scattered, Covered, and Smothered

taken from Shelby County Register GIS
taken from Shelby County Register GIS
One of the other things that Rep. Carter talked about last night was something called ‘non-contiguous annexation/de-annexation’.

What that means is areas that are part of the city don’t have to be lined up one after another. This is kind of a hard thing to visualize, so I have a picture of a neighborhood (I removed all the identifying factors because I don’t know if this neighborhood can de-annex or not, its just for illustration).

Lets say, this neighborhood was part of an area that de-annexed itself. Under Rep. Carter’s bill, the City could end all services on the effective date, and still tax the property for the debt accrued while in the city.

But there’s another piece. If some homeowners didn’t want to leave the city, they have a certain timeframe (I think 30 days from the effective date) to petition the city to come back in.

That all seems well and good until you visualize what that might look like, which I have done below.

Non-contiguous Memphis 'what if'
Non-contiguous Memphis ‘what if’
As you can see in this example, just a few of the plots of land in this image have asked the City to accept them back in. The City doesn’t have to, and it might be in their best interest not to.

Here’s why: Providing police, fire and trash pickup for these few plots of land in an otherwise unserviced area would be a very inefficient use of resources for the city. The property taxes and fees collected would never pay for the services. Its only when the city provides services to everyone in a neighborhood that it comes closer to being efficient.

Which means that if the people in these plots of land want to still be in Memphis, they would have to move, because it wouldn’t make good sense for Memphis to annex just their homes, and not the whole neighborhood.

This is one of those provisions that gets stuck in bills to make it seem really Democratic. “If they want to stay in Memphis, let ’em”, says Rep. Carter. He says this, knowing full well that Memphis will have to say no if there’s not enough demand (we might be wise to say no if its not unanimous).

What’s more, this is just one neighborhood of a larger area that de-annexed. It may be that City services have to traverse over miles of County roads just to provide services. There’s no way the City could, in good faith, allow that to happen either.

So this ‘pot sweetener’ is really a red herring. Rep. Carter knows the City could never make a few exceptions for select people. It would be fiscally irresponsible.

Conclusion

At this point, we don’t know if the Senate will vote on this bill this week or next. The House calendar says its ready to be sent over to the Senate, which means it could be any day now.

This afternoon Mayor Strickland met with the Memphis City Council (they were still meeting as I wrote this). Strickland says de-annexation could add between 30 and 70 cents to our already highest in the state tax rate.

Last night Rep. Larry Miller warned the Tennessee House of Representatives that by voting for the bill they were voting for a tax hike. He was right.

I guess Republicans aren’t opposed to tax hikes for some people.

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