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Kanawha leaders to push for changes in annexation law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials will ask the state Legislature to return to county commissions the discretion to turn down annexation bids.

Under state law, cities can annex property into city limits by minor boundary adjustment, a petition signed by affected property owners, or a town election to bring the property into the city.

Under the old law, the county commission gave final approval to annexation bids, and could turn down annexation requests if there was public opposition or some other compelling reason to stop the annexation. But state lawmakers changed the law several years ago, effectively removing the discretion of county officials to turn down annexation requests.

"We don't have anything in the game now," complained Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

County officials want the Legislature to change the law back to something similar to the way it was before. Petitioning state lawmakers to take another look at the annexation law is part of the Kanawha County Commission's legislative agenda, an annual list of bills county officials would like to see introduced to the Legislature or issues they would like lawmakers to investigate.

The legislative agenda will be discussed during a regular meeting of the Kanawha County Commission Thursday.

Under the new law, Carper said, county officials have no say in whether an annexation is approved or not. If a city wants to annex property by minor boundary adjustment, and the citizens in the area to be annexed are opposed, there's nothing the county commission can do about it.

In July, the city of Nitro annexed a three-foot strip of land around the Bayer CropScience plant into the city limits, effectively isolating the plant inside the ring and keeping Dunbar or other nearby towns from annexing the plant themselves. Although state lawmakers and county officials said the law was never meant to be used that way, the Kanawha County Commission was again powerless to stop the annexation.

"Anyone ought to see there's a problem here," Carper said. He said the way the annexation law was rewritten gives no county or state oversight to the annexation process.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, who helped draft the rewrite of the annexation law, agrees that the Legislature should take another look at the law.

"I can't remember the exact details [of why the law was rewritten]," said McCabe, whose term ends before next year's legislative session starts. "But I'm comfortable with revisiting the issue. I don't quite know yet what the solution is."

McCabe said manufacturers and other business groups should sit down with county officials and other government representatives to figure out a way to make annexation work for all parties involved.

Kanawha County officials also want to introduce a bill to give government agencies tax credits to buy alternative-fuel vehicles. Individuals already can get tax breaks to buy electric or natural gas-powered vehicles, but county officials think it would help persuade government agencies to buy natural gas fleets if they can get tax credits to help offset the extra cost of alternative-fuel cars and trucks.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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