Discussion by city commissioners of annexation impacting residents of the Celanese, Honeysuckle Ridge and Horseleg Estates communities caught some county school leaders by surprise last week.
But whether or not the city is serious remains to be seen.
City Manager Sammy Rich said he’s been employed by the city since 2006 and can’t recall a city retreat that talk of annexations didn’t come up in one fashion or another.
“It’s a recurring topic that generally does come up at the retreat,” Rich said. That same type of conversation led the city to do some annexation off Burnett Ferry Road more than five years ago.
“I’m sensitive to the fact of the possible implications it has to the county school board budget,” Rich said.
Floyd County Schools Interim Superintendent Glenn White said that residents of the Celanese community have been a part of the Model School district for well over 50 years.
“I just don’t feel like those people want to go into another school district because of their connection to the Model school district,” White said.
However, tradition changes as new residents move in.
“My main interest in this is from talking to our neighbors who are remarkably confused about whether they live in the city or the county,” said Commissioner Wendy Davis.
Some of the newer residents of what was a mill village don’t understand why they can’t get city services when their neighborhood is surrounded by the city.
“Because we have jagged edges, and Celanese feels like an island,” she said. “It’s right next to the city high school and middle yet because of the way the political boundaries are constructed the students have to pass a school to get to their school. They see a garbage truck driving by but it can’t take their garbage.”
Honeysuckle Ridge is in the Pepperell school district and Horseleg Estates is in the Coosa district.
At this point the county school system is conducting research now to see exactly how many students might be involved if an annexation does occur.
Mayor Bill Collins said he does not believe the city is ready to force the issue.
“I do think the commissioners are ready to begin setting up meetings to begin the process of letting them (county property owners) know exactly what the breakdown is as far as tax differences, what the breakdown is for water and sewer issues,” Collins said.
Davis also said she wants to see some concrete data to be able to go to property owners and say this is how much you’ll be paying in taxes and this is how much less you’ll pay for water and sewer services over the course of a year if they are on both city services.
The average customers in the three areas that the city is looking at probably paid something close to $20 a month more for water and sewer services if they are not city residents, Rome Water and Sewer Division Chief Mike Hackett said. That would end up being approximately $250 a year.
That’s the difference in service costs, but taxes would also change if the neighborhoods are placed within city boundaries.
Floyd County Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne offered some estimates of the tax difference.
For example, an $80,000 home in Celanese and no exemptions would pay approximately $960 in county taxes this year. If that same home was annexed into the city, the total city and county tax bill would be $1,184.
A homeowner in Horseleg Estates with a $225,000 home would pay approximately $2,700 as a county taxpayer. If that home was inside the city the bill would be $3,330.
The homeowner of a $130,000 home in Honeysuckle Ridge would pay a $1,560 county tax bill, but $1,924 if they were annexed into the city.
Some factors that might prompt county property owners to take a long look at being annexed include garbage pickup, street lights, road improvements, curb and gutter improvements to neighborhood streets, Collins said.
“I talked with one of the Celanese residents. He owns about eight pieces of property and he’s setting up the opportunity to meet with us to have further discussions with us about it,” Collins said.
Collins also said some of the residents of the Honeysuckle Ridge community have expressed a willingness to at least talk about annexation.
The Floyd County Schools interim superintendent cited remarks printed in the Rome News-Tribune by City Clerk Joe Smith about the scarcity of voluntary annexation requests in recent years as evidence there’s little interest in annexation.
And the city doesn’t appear to be interested in the forced part of forced annexation.
“I think it’s time to have those public conversations,” Davis said. “I am not a fan of the city just going — we have decided and you are now all city residents.”
But there’s room for conversation, Davis said.
“I have been asking for several years for us to have a community conversation about the topic because I’ve heard from some residents they want to be in the city,” she said. “And I’m sure there are residents who don’t want to be in the city.”