Annexation and Municipal Boundary Changes after Public Chapter 707

As the 108th General Assembly convened in 2013, concerns from citizen groups prompted debate over whether changes should be made to the state’s municipal annexation laws, which date back to 1955.  To allow adequate time for proper consideration of the complex issues raised in the debate, the legislature established a moratorium on non-consensual annexations of agricultural and residential property and called for a comprehensive review of state policies related to growth planning and municipal boundary changes.  This Commission released its interim report to the legislature in January 2014, comparing and contrasting current and proposed laws in Tennessee with those in other states and recommending extension of the moratorium for another year to allow for further consideration of options presented in the report.  That April, the General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 707, repealing cities’ authority for unilateral, nonconsensual annexation, strengthening the annexation moratorium established by Public Chapter 441, and instructing the Commission to continue its review of state policies.

Public Chapter 707 left the existing referendum method unchanged but added a more formal method for individual owner consent, one that requires consent in writing, something that was not necessary in the past.  The act ensured that after May 15, 2015, cities can annex property only with written owner consent or by referendum and can now annex certain agricultural land only with written owner consent.  Tennessee will be one of six states (Alabama, Delaware, Florida, New York, and North Carolina being the others) where the only annexation methods available to cities are by 100% owner consent or by referendum (see appendix C for annexation methods used in other states).  Prior law allowed Tennessee cities to annex without consent any area within their urban growth boundary and adjacent to the city limits.

While Public Chapter 707 settled the issue of non-consensual annexation, establishing consent as the basis for all annexations in Tennessee, its passage raised some new questions and left others unresolved.  Among the new questions is how to determine which agricultural properties now require written consent for annexation.  Other changes made by the act require further revision to remove references to deleted sections and clarify statutes made ambiguous by the changes.  These statutes are discussed in appendix B, which includes suggested revisions.  Unresolved issues related to annexation include: non-resident owners’ ability to participate in annexation decisions, accommodating requests for annexation of non-contiguous properties, requirements for plans of services, initiating deannexation, informing residents of mutual boundary adjustments, and proper allocation of tax revenue after annexation.  Also unresolved is the status of counties’ growth plans, including the need to review and update them periodically, allowing cities to unilaterally retract their urban growth boundaries (UGBs), and the duties and responsibilities of joint economic and community development boards.

The 110th General Assembly made some further changes to the annexation laws that addressed referendums and the annexation of non-contiguous territory.  These are described in more detail under their separate sub-headings.