WARNER ROBINS -- Bearing prepared statements printed on paper or written longhand on index cards, residents facing annexation and their neighbors packed into a City Hall conference room Thursday night.
About three dozen Houston County residents questioned the City Council’s proposal to annex isolated lots within county neighborhoods, a practice that Mayor Chuck Shaheen defended and Councilman Bob Wilbanks said is counterproductive to one of the council’s annexation goals.
“If the reason we are annexing land is so that fire and trash and sewer and water -- those services won’t be as confusing, this seems like it’ll confuse those services even more,” Wilbanks said.
Two weeks after annexing more than 400 properties, City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to annex 15 more.
Over the past couple of months, the City Council has annexed properties that are contiguous to city limits and have signed agreements. The agreements, often unknown to the current property owners, allowed developers to tap into the city sewer system with the promise that the city could annex the property once the land butted up against city property.
The residents who spoke Thursday evening are part of a recent proposed list that includes 15 properties. Ten of those properties are isolated lots that will remain surrounded by county land if annexed.
Most of the residents who attended Thursday’s meeting were neighbors of two Carter Woods West residents who are on the latest list. Before the meeting started, Shaheen tried to calm the neighbors who were concerned with future plans to annex the entire subdivision.
“If you don’t have city sewer, I don’t see how this council would have you coming to the city,” Shaheen said, noting that he can’t speak for all future councils. “It may be cost prohibitive for us to run sewer to you.”
Yet, the neighbors remained at the meeting, with the same question: Why go through the trouble of annexing two houses out of 84?
Neither Shaheen nor the councilmen answered that question directly.
“I’m not going to look at two homes when we have 22,000,” Shaheen responded when asked the question after the meeting.
Shaheen said the residents who use city sewage are being annexed so that they have to pay the same property taxes as other Warner Robins sewer customers who already live in the city.
Shaheen has estimated that the recent annexations, including the ones discussed Thursday, will generate about $200,000 more in property taxes.
“There’s 22,000 homes in Warner Robins that pay property taxes for their sewer,” Shaheen said.
It’s an argument that Shaheen has been making during the summer annexations. But residents say that they have paid for the service with a monthly bill.
The residents also debated claims Shaheen has made that annexed homes could have better public services through the city and possibly lower home insurance rates.
“Several of us have contacted our insurance company to compare the prices to remaining in the county to becoming part of the city,” said Lee Davis, president of the Carter Woods West Homeowners Association. “The difference is a savings of approximately $90 per year. We are estimating our taxes if we join the city to be well over $1,000 per year.”
Meanwhile, questions about public services have been largely answered. With Houston County refusing to relinquish water service for isolated lots, the residents will continue paying the county for water service. Shaheen said the county will also continue to pick up trash at the properties. And, public safety will turn over to the city’s jurisdiction, with backup from the county -- the same as any other city property.
“Let’s be honest here. There is only one reason to annex these properties -- to gain tax revenue with little to no responsibility,” Davis said.
Karen Madruga, a resident facing annexation in Carter Woods West, said she hopes the council will vote against annexing her home and others in similar situations.
“I think they’ll make the right decision,” she said after the meeting. “It’s not a done deal yet.”
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.