Since the founding of our country, property rights have been considered sacred and have been protected by our Constitution. George Washington once said, “You cannot have a free society without private property.” John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated, “No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent.” In most states property rights are well protected by legislation. Unfortunately that is not the case everywhere.
“Involuntary forced municipal annexation” is a legal way for a local jurisdiction to take control of your property without a single vote by citizens. It has been in practice in this state for decades. There are only three states left that allow this: Idaho, Indiana and Tennessee. Last year, North Carolina ended its residents’ 100-year nightmare when the legislature overwhelmingly passed laws to end this rein of terror inflicted on property owners. Movements are under way to eliminate this in Idaho and Indiana. If they are successful, that will leave Tennessee as the only state that allows “forced annexation” by municipalities.
For years residents in rural communities in the Volunteer State have been living under the threat of involuntary annexation, yet few questioned why 47 other states allow annexation by referendum only. For decades, every attempt to reform our annexation laws has failed.
People chose to live in environments commensurate with their values and needs. Unfortunately when their neighborhoods are annexed against their will, they are never the same. Subject to changes in codes, zoning, ordinances and new taxes, these homeowners must accept the consequences and pay dearly for it or move. This not only disrupts their lives, but it’s often an extreme economic hardship on them. Being annexed can be particularly devastating for our seniors.
Many city managers and planners are extremely reticent to change these laws. It is their contention that if they lose the power to annex our rural communities “at will,” this will inhibit their plans for economic growth and ability to increase revenue. I disagree. Tennesseans are very supportive of properly planned municipal expansion. Effective metropolitan growth is needed to control the use of our resources and safeguard the serenity of our environment.
Ensuring orderly maturation and well-planed community evolution are paramount. It entails intense demographic research, well thought out regulatory and incentive strategies and historic preservation. Planning for a well regulated infrastructure ultimately makes municipal growth successful. Why would any of our businesses or citizens be against that? Yet confiscating large areas of unincorporated residential neighborhoods under the cloak of “planned urban growth” is not right or ethical. All property annexations should be done through referendum. It is part of our rightful democratic process.
Fortunately for us, this year Tennessee’s state legislators have chosen to address the serious problem of forced annexation. House bill 475 is sponsored by Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. Carter hopes to amend our antiquated annexation laws making it mandatory for annexation of unincorporated properties to be done through referendum only. I urge you to ask your state senators and representatives to support this effort.
In 1816 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.” The time has come to end involuntary annexation in Tennessee.
William Haupt III is a retired former citizen legislator from California now living in Middle Tennessee. He is founder of Tennesseans Against Forced Annexation, an organization created to help the citizens of Tennessee better understand the state’s complex annexation laws.