Small boundary line shift all the town wanted

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

It started with a boundary line adjustment.

While Isle of Wight County Administrator Anne Seward recently made a presentation concerning the negative impacts of annexation by the town of Smithfield, Mayor Carter Williams said the threat arose because the county abruptly rescinded a boundary line agreement last year before notifying the town.

That decision, along with a few other issues, has led to a breakdown in communication between town and county officials. One outstanding issue is the expired water agreement between Smithfield and Isle of Wight to serve Gatling Pointe. Water is still being supplied for Gatling Pointe by the town, but without an agreement in place, and town officials are eager to renew one. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors is moving ahead with plans to build a multi-million dollar water line to serve Gatling Pointe. The waterline — which was a key component of Seward’s annexation presentation last month — has since become a major campaign issue this year, as three supervisors seats are up for grabs and two incumbents have decided not to run.

Another lingering, yet unanswered question is — what about a sewer line?

Boundary lines

Isle of Wight County had agreed to adjust its boundary to include the Scott farm, located at the corner of Battery Park and Nike Park roads, as well as another adjustment that would have incorporated ballparks proposed to be built near Great Spring Road.

Later, the land for the ballparks was deemed unusable due to wetlands, so the county decided to keep that piece of property. However, Smithfield Supervisor Al Casteen said at the time, that property could not be separated from the Scott farm in a joint resolution, so the whole adjustment agreement was jettisoned.

Smithfield town attorney William Riddick maintained the two adjustments could have been separated, but the action to void the resolution was made last summer.

Part of the agreement between the town and county was that if the boundary line adjustments were made, the town would refrain from annexing any additional property for the next 10 years.

Williams said the town wanted the Scott farm because the owner of the property, Napolitano Homes, wanted to be in the town, not the county.

Napolitano Homes purchased the 184 acres property in 2006.

However, a few months after the county backed out of the boundary line adjustment, it unveiled its controversial, and now defeated, ISLE 2040 plan. Those plans included expanding the Newport Development Service District, which would have pulled the Scott farm, as well as Gatling Pointe, into the DSD and markedly increase density along Nike Park Road.

Around the same time, Smithfield decided to study annexation options since the boundary line adjustment has been cancelled. But because the Scott farm was just one piece of property, and the annexation process is complicated, the town decided to look at other areas, including Gatling Pointe, the Yeoman farm on Benn’s Church Boulevard and the Little farm on Route 258, Williams said.

The Smithfield Town Council has since taken Gatling Pointe off the table for annexation due to opposition, but added the other properties as growth areas in its comprehensive plan in June. The Town Council has not taken any further action. 

What about sewer?

One persistent question by residents concerned about the proposed $3.77 million waterline is the absence of any discussion of a sewer line.

In addition to providing water to Gatling Pointe, Smithfield also has an agreement with Isle of Wight County to provide sewer to those residents.

Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson said the Board of Supervisors has not discussed a sewer line, and besides, the agreement with the town does not have an expiration date, as does the water agreement.

While the sewer agreement does not expire this year, it is up for a rate review.

At the same time, if the Scott farm stays in the county and is developed, where would the sewer line come from?

“The short answer is I don’t know,” said Robertson, adding that it’s a good question, but one that has not yet been discussed by the Board.

Currently, a town sewer force main, as well as a town water main, extend along Battery Park Road in front of the Scott farm.

Town Manager Peter Stephenson said the sewer rate for the county is currently under review. Town officials have said it may have to hike sewer rates to offset the revenue loss from the proposed water line, which is about $250,000 a year.

Seward said the county needs water customers to pay down the debt incurred by the controversial Norfolk water deal, which was signed in 2009 and now costs Isle of Wight millions of dollars a year without any water being used so far.

“Healthy solution”

In addition to providing water to Gatling Pointe, other “healthy solutions,” as indicated by Seward in her presentation, to the annexation threat, include a revenue sharing agreement, such as the meals tax, as well as having the town require proffers for county services, said Robertson.

The revenue sharing agreement would only be within the proposed annexed areas, Robertson said.

This requires some negotiation between the county and the town, which would allow the town to grow but be mindful of the county’s obligation to provide services, Robertson said. 

Seward’s presentation pointed out that about $3.1 million in potential tax revenue is collected by the towns rather than the county because of state laws that allow towns to enact taxes that would otherwise be available to counties.

For example, counties are capped by state law on the percentage of meals tax they can collect, while towns are not, Seward said.

Isle of Wight has a meals tax of 4 percent, while Smithfield’s meals tax is 6 percent.

Annexation also shifts school population into the town and that means less sales tax revenues, which in turn fund schools, she said.

Seward also raised the issue of proffers, which the town is not required to suggest to potential developers. Proffers, which are considered voluntary, are suggested by a locality to offset the cost of development in the areas of schools, public safety and other key services.

Added residential growth in the towns creates more need for costly services in the county, Seward said.

That issue was highlighted recently when the proposed developer of Pierceville in Smithfield offered proffers far below what the county has decided is necessary to cover added services.

Although Casteen said during the Aug. 27 meeting that the county would have a lower real estate tax rate if it wasn’t for the towns, Seward said the problem is about having one flourish while the other doesn’t.

Williams said the Town Council is frustrated with its current relationship with the Board of Supervisors and discussions on a number of issues have not been fruitful.

“You couldn’t get there with a GPS,” he said.

“I’m waiting to see what happens during the election.”

Efforts to reach Casteen, and the Board of Supervisors Chairman Rex Alphin, were unsuccessful. {/mprestriction}