County looks to state for annexation relief

March 16, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

Editor's note: This is the final story in a three-part series on growth in the Jefferson County, W.Va., community of Ranson.

RANSON, W.Va. - Concerned about how thousands of acres of newly annexed land into the city of Ranson will affect growth patterns in Jefferson County in coming years, county officials are going to the state for help.

Ranson has annexed about 3,800 acres under a new state law controlling annexations.

Before the law change, annexations could be accomplished through a petition from landowners or a city election, said Ranson Mayor David Hamill. Before a petition could be submitted or an election could be held, there had to be a certain population density in the land being annexed, Hamill said.

The population density requirement was dropped under the new law, meaning that annexations by petition simply needed to have the backing of a majority of property owners, Hamill said.


The annexations have drawn criticism from county officials, who say they create confusing boundaries in the county and interfere with land planning efforts by the county.

A main concern among county officials is a so-called "pipestem" annexation pattern, which is the annexation of slender pieces of property to reach larger tracts.

An example of pipestem annexation was Ranson's annexation of a segment of W.Va. 9 to reach 700 acres that are north of Wiltshire Road.

The Jefferson County Commission hopes state lawmakers can make some changes in annexation laws to help them deal with their concerns.

Three Jefferson County lawmakers have introduced a bill in the Legislature that would change the way cities can annex land.

Under the bill, a town can annex a road, but the section being annexed cannot be any longer than the width that is being taken, said Del. John Doyle, one of the bill's sponsors.

In other words, if a town is annexing 5 miles of a road, it must be annexing an area on both sides of the road that is 5 miles wide, Doyle said.

That part of the bill is designed to address the concerns over pipestem annexations, Doyle said.

The bill also changes the way annexations can be accomplished through a petition from landowners, which is how Ranson's annexations were completed.

Under the bill, a petition for annexation can be accepted only if a majority of the residents approve of the annexation, which is how the state law is now written.

The bill also requires that at least 40 signatures from property owners and freeholders in the proposed annexed area be obtained in order for the annexation to be considered, Doyle said.

That requirement would return a population density requirement to the state law, said Doyle, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Dels. Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, and Jeffrey Tansill, R-Taylor.

The bill also requires that any land being annexed by a city run along its border for at least 150 feet, Doyle said.

The Jefferson County Commission met with Gov. Joe Manchin in Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 11, hoping the governor might be able to deal with the issue in the state Legislature, which convened for its annual session in Charleston on Feb. 9.

County Commissioner Dale Manuel said Manchin told the commissioners that if they have some specific ideas on how annexations should be handled, those proposals should be put in writing.

Manchin would then take a "hard look" at the proposals, Manuel said.

Hamill said the West Virginia Municipal League, which represents the interests of cities, is advocating that no changes in the state annexation laws be made unless representatives of cities and counties come together on a "mutually agreed-to plan."

If either side tries to advocate a proposal to lawmakers without input from the other side, hopefully the legislators will decline to take any action, Hamill said.

"I believe that's the way it's going to be," Hamill said.

Lawmakers have met with the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia, which represents interests of county commissions in the state, and the West Virginia Municipal League in an attempt to find language everyone can agree on, said Wysong.

Sen. John Unger said cities should be a part of any discussion on proposed new annexation laws, but he said it is not necessary for everyone to be in agreement on a plan.

"It's our job down here to make those tough decisions," said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

Unger said in a recent interview that he is eager to debate the issue in the Legislature. He said he is concerned about cities being able to provide services to areas once they are annexed.

"Who are we serving by doing this? It creates a nightmare for proper land-use planning," Unger said.

Unger said Manchin is proposing a bill that would give local governments more flexibility to deal with issues unique to them, and perhaps that bill could be amended to deal with the local concerns over annexation.

To read the entire series on Ranson, see

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