That was just one of the revelations to come out of presentations Nov. 16 by the Town of Hillsville and Carroll County to the State Commission on Local Government. By extending Hillsville’s town limits to Exit 14, the Hillsville Police Department would also now be responsible for that area, as well as the new U.S. 58 Hillsville Bypass. That means the town will most likely up its police force by at least three members and two more police cruisers.
The proposed annexation of Hillsville was referred to as a “compromise” throughout the course of the two-hour presentation as both town and county leaders praised each other for finding a way to reach an agreement after years of “strife” amongst the two localities (see accompanying article). Aside from the opportunity to increase economic development, the proposed annexation would also settle pending litigation and resolution of water and service issues between the town and county dating as far back as 1953.
The proposed agreement provides for the immediate annexation of the town of approximately 610.8 acres of territory currently located in Carroll County. As part of the annexation agreement, the town and county will enter into a revenue sharing agreement for meals and lodging taxes collected from the annexed area, while the Town of Hillsville will waive future annexation and city status rights for a period of 40 years.
Hillsville Town Council member Greg Yonce and Hillsville Town Manager Larry South both testified before the state commission Nov. 16 about the benefits to the town of the proposed annexation. Carroll County Board of Supervisors Chairman Wes Hurst and County Administrator Gary Larrowe testified on behalf of the county.
The liquor by the drink subject came to light when State Commission on Local Government member Cole Hendrix asked South if annexation around the interstate would allow restaurants there to sell liquor by the drink.
“That is correct,” South said. “I think there are business that have looked at that area that may not have located there because of the lack of that ability.”
Hendrix then asked what Hillsville would have to do to make liquor by the drink available once annexation is complete. South said since the town already allows liquor by the drink, the same would apply for annexed areas upon approval of annexation.
South said Hillsville would also benefit from the proposed annexed area through the collection of additional real estate and property taxes.
“We will continue to share the meals and lodging tax (with Carroll),” South said. “Hopefully there will be new development from those lodging or restaurants, which will increase the revenue for both the town and county.”
South noted that the town and county have shared meals and lodging taxes on a 50/50 basis since a 1995 annexation agreement between the two. Nothing would change in that regard, except now the town would write the county a check for taxes, instead of vice-versa.
Police protection and water and sewer services are some of the benefits those that fall in the proposed annexation area will receive from the town, South said, in addition to zoning and trash collection. Those services wouldn’t be affected by annexation, South said, although the town would install things such as additional street lighting. Water and sewer services won’t change, since the Carroll County Public Service Authority (PSA) already handles that operation, South said. The Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department already responds to the area around the interstate as well, so that is not an issue.
When asked if the town needs to expand its tax base, South said it does because the area around the interstate is the gateway into town. One change will be in the handling of law enforcement.
“There is occasions where the town police department will assist the (county) sheriff’s department. Once this comes into town, certainly we will be the primary response from a law enforcement standpoint,” South said. “That should relieve some of the burden. There is a substantial number of calls along the interstate area so hopefully that will relieve the sheriff’s department of some of that obligation.”
South added that Hillsville Police Chief Steve Williams thinks it will take up to three additional police officers and two new police cruisers to accommodate not only the boundary adjustment area, but also the new bypass.
The Hillsville Town Manager said the annexation agreement would positively impact the town’s budget because it will reduce its legal fees. The agreement also makes clear how utility services will be handled, so that so help avoid future disputes in the future between the localities.
Annexation will have a positive financial effect on the Town as well, South said.
“Absolutely. As growth occurs there will be additional property tax that will be collected,” South said. “And again it will further commercial development that will increase taxes associated that the town will share. There is plenty of potential.”
South said the town is prepared to extend services immediately once annexation is approved. Overall, he said the agreement will be a good thing for local residents and the area. It’s a great thing to see the town and county finally united, he added.
“It has been a long time coming. It has been a lot of time spent on negotiations, a lot of expense with legal fees and otherwise. We need to be united as a town and county,” South said. “There is a lot of positive things that have happened here that probably could have happened quicker if we had been on the same playing field. There is no doubt it is a positive. And hopefully we put the past behind us and move forward because a team effort is a much better way to accomplish things.”
South said the town anticipates $346,000 in additional revenue if annexation takes place. Hendrix wondered how annexation would affect Hillsville’s ability to handle its $7.5 million of debt.
“It should not decrease our ability to handle the debt,” South said. “As the revenue increases from that area with the proposed adjustment, it should help us.”
Harold Bannister, Chairman of the State Commission, wanted to know how planning and zoning would be affected in the annexation area. Hillsville Attorney Carter Glass said state code allows for any locality to include a transitional zoning period within its zoning ordinance before the rezoning process beings. Glass said the town has not developed a tentative zoning plan for the area, however, because it would be premature to do so until the town feels comfortable that annexation will occur.
“A public hearing would need to be held, but it is premature at this point until the area is actually brought within the town,” Glass said. “But there will be some sort of interim arrangement.”
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With 25 years of experience in the field, Yonce said he has a deep understanding of real estate and development in the two localities. He’s lived in the town for about 42 years and is in his ninth year on town council.
While there has been some growth in Hillsville and Carroll County over the past 25 years, Yonce said the area around I-77 is the most valuable property in Carroll County. That is where the majority of local growth has occurred over the past 15 years.
Yonce said he expects commercial development to continue along I-77 and the U.S. 58 corridor with the new Hillsville Bypass. Areas currently in town limits where the Hillsville Flea Market and Gun Show are held would be suitable for commercial development, Yonce said, but that probably will never be available for commercial development because of the flea market. Commission member Vola Lawson asked if that area would be appropriate for imminent domain.
“I think it would be a very difficult argument and I think it is very difficult to consider that,” Yonce said. “The flea market has been here for over 35 years and for some people it is their livelihood. The consideration that would have to be given to a property that is in that area, it may not be worth imminent domain.”
Very little of the vacant area currently in town limits would be suitable for commercial development because of geography and terrain, Yonce added. There are some areas currently in Hillsville that are primed for residential development, he said. Yonce said he wouldn’t recommend any residential development in the proposed boundary area, however, because that is a commercial area.
As far as commercial property vacancies in the current town limits, the Hillsville Town Council member said there are a couple of industrial buildings that are vacant. There’s not much small, retail commercial space available, however. The housing market has seen its fair share of foreclosures, just like most localities, but Yonce said there is not a large percentage of vacant homes in Hillsville.
Bannister wanted to know if the town believes Exit 14 will continue to see development as a commercial area.
“I believe so. I’m not sure you’d want to see industry (there). That is more retail, commercial, restaurant, convenience store, things along that line,” Yonce said. “There is adequate space in the industrial park for a couple of industrial ventures.”
Yonce said there is a demand for a restaurant row at Exit 14. There are a couple of fast-food restaurants in town limits, Yonce said, but not a true sit-down restaurant.
“We have had them in the past and they remained open for some time and then closed for whatever reason,” Yonce said. “But I think you would see a line of higher-end, sit-down type restaurants around the interstate in this proposed annexed area.”
As far as the 40-year waiver of annexation and city status rights, Yonce said he honestly never could see Hillsville becoming a city. He likes the size of the town and what happens within it and Carroll County.
“So I don’t think the city status issue is even an issue. The only time we could possibly become a city is during the flea market. As far as the 40-year term, we did discuss that on town council. That was a compromise that we did make,” Yonce said. “We would have liked for that to be just a little bit shorter, but I think with the area having the boundary adjustment taken in, that is and will be the most valuable property in Hillsville. I don’t see in that 40-year period any other explosive growth like we’ve seen around the interstate.”
The State Commission on Local Government will meet in Richmond on Jan. 10, 2011 to consider a vote on the proposed annexation agreement.