In the May 25, 2011, edition of the Independent, Jonathan Weiler wrote about a practice called “underbounding.” Weiler states: “Underbounding occurs when a local government draws its boundaries in such a way as to selectively include certain neighborhoods while excluding others.” Mr. Weiler used the City of Mebane, North Carolina, as an example of this practice. As a member of the Mebane City Council, I strongly object to this characterization and want to provide some historical information overlooked by Mr. Weiler.
The City of Mebane’s annexation policy is one of voluntary annexation. The neighborhoods and commercial areas that have been annexed over the past 20 years have all been requested or by consent of the property owners. In all of those cases, infrastructure costs, including installation of water and sewer services, were borne primarily by the developers and property owners. The philosophy behind this method is that the cost of new infrastructure should be borne by those who benefit from it, not by the tax-paying citizens. These annexations have been primarily of undeveloped, rural areas, to which no prior services had been extended.
The West End area of Mebane has presented an entirely different challenge for the staff and elected officials in Mebane. This neighborhood has been in existence for decades, pre-dating the tenure of any currently serving staff or councilmen. Much of the area is served by the Orange-Alamance Water System Inc., but had, until recently, been reliant upon septic systems for sewage treatment. More than 15 years ago, it was the policy of the Council not to expend taxpayer money on areas outside of the city limits. More recently, there has been shift in the City’s focus toward advocating better conditions for our neighbors. In 1998, the City of Mebane began pursuing grant funds to provide for improved infrastructure and living conditions in areas that are outside of our city limits. Since that time, in addition to the grants listed here [download .xls], there have been numerous efforts to explain and encourage the benefits of annexation to the West End and White Level areas. Petitions have been circulated and informational meetings have been held, but these efforts have failed, as a significant number of residents do not wish to be annexed.
A Citizens Advisory Committee, comprised of West End residents, two city council members and staff, was formed in order to identify areas most in need of sewer service and rehabilitation. This group worked with a city-financed grant writer to prioritize specific houses and streets that would qualify for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). In 1998 the City applied for and received a CDBG grant for water and sewer in the amount of $780,000 from the federal government. The City’s match was $156,000, for a total of $936,000. The City also received CDGB funds in 2004, 2005 and 2010, for a total of $3,330,000 in federal funds with City matching funds of $426,000. This represents an investment of $3,756,000 for water, sewer and housing rehabilitation in the West End neighborhood. An additional $2,050,000 has been applied for, but not received, and the City has worked with Alamance County government on an application for $700,000 for work north of Hwy 70N, outside of Mebane’s ETJ. The instances where grants were applied for but not received were rejected for a variety of reasons, including median income above the criteria demanded by the grants.
Certainly, there are lingering hardships caused by generations of ill-advised policies. However, the City of Mebane has aggressively worked to abate these hardships and will continue to do so with the help of the good people we call our neighbors.
Mebane City Councilmember