Woodfin is pursuing an annexation that would increase its population by almost 50 percent, bringing 3,360 people from the Erwin Hills and Leicester areas into the town. The stated reason is to keep Asheville from annexing the area first, which the city has denied is a goal. Residents of the 3.4-square-mile area have objected to the move, saying they'll face higher taxes without substantially improved services.
The move would expand the town's tax base by about 38 percent.
"The primary reason that the [Woodfin Board of Aldermen] felt this was necessary is that they were concerned that Asheville would annex the area, cutting into the tax base of the West Buncombe Fire District by about 12.5 percent," Town Administrator Jason Young told Xpress. "That is within the city's sphere of influence; they've been looking at growing into that area."
Not so, said Asheville Vice Mayor Jan Davis. "Right now there are no plans to expand into that area," said Davis. "It doesn't look like Woodfin, and it doesn't look like Asheville."
While city planners have studied the feasibility of annexing that area in the past, Davis noted, they did so as part of a routine process of reviewing areas all around the city, few of which actually get annexed.
Asheville has already extended water and sewer service to the area.
Meanwhile, the residents would see a tax increase, paying 26.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value to Woodfin in addition to the county taxes and fire-district fees. The town would hire eight additional police officers and three staff to handle the added population, but residents say Woodfin would give them little they don't have now.
"We already have law enforcement; we already have fire," resident Megan Richardson told Xpress. "I would pay $400 more in taxes and get nothing out of it. I think they're just using this to try and pay their bills."
The town's tax rate, noted Young, is far lower than Asheville's (which is 42 cents per $100). But the city provides more services than Woodfin.
More than 200 people, mostly area residents sharply critical of the annexation, showed up at a July 7 informational meeting.
This isn't the first time Woodfin has undertaken ambitious annexations. The last wave, in 2006, greatly increased the town's area and population — now more than double what they were in 2000.
But Young said the various annexations are "not related at all."
Asheville and Woodfin officials met June 12 to discuss a possible annexation agreement, and both sides have described those ongoing conversations as cordial.
Davis, however, said there are concerns over the pace of Woodfin's expansion. "It's in rough keeping with the legality of the law, but not the spirit," he said. "This is the sort of thing that gets annexation opponents riled up — with some cause — and it's the sort of thing that turns legislators' heads."
Woodfin's Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the annexation Tuesday, July 21, and will probably vote on the matter in August. If approved, the area would formally join Woodfin about a year later.
According to Richardson, residents are ready to mobilize to block the move.
"We're all facing a recession; this could really hurt us," she said. "We're ready to go door to door, hand out leaflets and get together money to hire a lawyer."