NASHVILLE — If the state House of Representatives next week follows same course the General Assembly's upper chamber followed Thursday, Tennessee cities and towns may soon be permanently unable to annex new areas against the will of residents.
By a 27-1 vote Thursday, the State Senate approved Senate Bill 2464, which effectively repeals long-standing statutes that permit cities to annex new areas by ordinance. The House will consider the legislation next week.
Last year, the legislature approved a measure that placed a one-year moratorium on annexations by ordinance while the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) studied the issue. That moratorium is set to expire next month. The new legislation would extend that moratorium until May 2015 while TACIR completes its study. At that point, the statutes allowing annexation by ordinance would be automatically revoked.
Ordinances simply require two majority votes by a town's governing council or board of aldermen. If the legislation currently being considered becomes law, annexations can only happen when voters within the impacted areas approve it by a referendum vote. For example, the towns of Huntsville, Oneida and Winfield could not annex areas adjacent to the current city limits without placing the issue on the ballot of an upcoming election.
The legislature's moratorium on ordinance annexations last year placed the status of Highlander Estates, a subdivision adjoining the Town of Huntsville on its northwest corner, in limbo. The town annexed the subdivision by ordinance after the retroactive date of the legislature's moratorium. That annexation could still take effect, but only if approved by Scott County Commission.
The Town of Huntsville has approved several annexations by ordinance over the past three years, including the Scenic Hills subdivision on its east end and Mudd Street on its south end.
Tennessee is currently one of only six states that allow annexations without a referendum vote. Ordinance annexations have been permitted in Tennessee towns since 1955. Prior to that, expansions of cities and towns had to be approved by the state legislature.