Deannexation: Concerns About Initiation and Effects

Tennessee allows only cities to initiate deannexation; participation by residents in deannexation decisions is limited to voting in deannexation referendums, when cities choose to hold them, or petitioning for a vote when they don’t.  Residents or landowners who consider the cost of being in the city to outweigh the benefits have no means of withdrawing from the city, and even when a city has failed to fully implement a plan of services adopted for an annexed area, their only recourse under current law is to sue the city to provide the services.  Service issues similar to those discussed in relation to corridor and non-contiguous annexation may also arise when cities choose to deannex areas, creating conflict and confusion both for residents and landowners and for the cities and counties responsible for serving them, as well as increasing travel time for those providing police and fire services.

Residents and property owners in some areas, for example, the Memphis area of Cordova, want to be deannexed.  City officials across the state, however, have expressed concern about losing the ability to recoup the cost of services, amenities, and infrastructure extended to areas that would be deannexed.40  Cities make substantial investments in areas where they extend services and expect to recover that investment through taxation or service charges, which they may do by continuing to tax deannexed areas for indebtedness existing at the time of the deannexation and by continuing to charge for services that remain after deannexation.41  Local officials have also expressed concern about allowing deannexations initiated by residents to create donut holes and confusion about who’s responsible for providing services to those areas.  Eight states have dealt with this by prohibiting deannexations that create donut holes, limiting deannexation to areas on city borders.42

Both methods for deannexation in Tennessee allow residents to participate but can be initiated only by cities.43  The first method requires the deannexation to be approved by three-fourths of voters in a referendum.44  The second method allows the city to deannex without a vote unless the residents petition for one.  If a petition is signed by 10% of the registered voters in the area, then the city must hold a referendum for the voters in the affected area.  In that case, a simple majority is all that is required to approve the deannexation.  Nine other states allow cities but not residents or owners to initiate deannexation.45  Fifteen states allow only residents and landowners to initiate it,46 while eleven allow either cities or residents and landowners to initiate the process.47

Other concerns have been raised by county officials when cities deannex roads and bridges to avoid maintaining them and the county has no say in the process.  They are concerned because counties are obligated to assume responsibility for infrastructure such as roads or for emergency or other services in deannexed areas.  For example, Johnson City annexed 1,000 feet of county road that included a bridge and then deannexed the bridge after the Tennessee Department of Transportation determined that it needed repairs, leaving the county responsible for it.48   In Wyoming, the city has to give 60-days’ notice to the county so that the county can study the potential effect on their service burden.49  In Kentucky, counties can refuse to accept uninhabited territory deannexed by cities.50

Legislation to authorize a deannexation process by property owners was introduced in the first session of the 110th General Assembly.  The bill would have allowed voters living within an area annexed by a municipality to petition the county election commission to conduct a referendum on deannexation of the area.  The bill was amended in Senate to require that the vote in the referendum had to be by all qualified voters in the municipality.  It was further amended to make an area ineligible for deannexation if the deannexation would result in a “donut hole” completely surrounded by incorporated territory as well as other limitations.  The bill passed the Senate in 2017 but not in the House.  The bill was brought up again in the second session of the 110th General Assembly in 2018 but did not pass.

40 Bailey 2013.
41 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 6-51-204.
42 Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
43 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 6-51-201.
44 The language in the statute is somewhat vague. It is unclear whether only those residing on the land to be deannexed can vote or whether those in the city can vote. According to the 2007 Municipal Technical Advisory Service’s Annexation Handbook for Cities and Towns in Tennessee II, it probably means the voters voting in a city referendum.
45 Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, and Virginia.
46 Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota,
Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
47 Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
48 John Deakins, Washington County Highway Superintendent, testimony to the Commission, August 21, 2013.
49 Wyoming Statutes, Section 15-1-421.
50 Kentucky Revised Statutes, Section 81A.440.