2018 Tops News Story #8: Barr dismisses HI incorporation petition

Friday, December 28, 2018

Carroll County News

Holiday Island residents who want to incorporate the community as a town were forced to wait when Carroll County Judge Sam Barr issued on order in April dismissing their petition for incorporation.

The dismissal was voted the No. 8 local news story of the year by Carroll County Newspapers’ editorial staff.

In his order, issued April 3, Barr cites state law that prohibits the incorporation of a municipality within three miles of an existing municipal corporation. The town of Beaver lies within three miles of a portion of the area proposed for incorporation.

Barr’s order also outlines other “grave concerns” about the move to incorporate — in particular the language included in the petition and the lack of details regarding revenue to provide essential services to the proposed town.

Barr’s ruling describes two methods for incorporating an unincorporated area: direct petition and petition and election.

“While it seems plain from the affidavit of Jan. 25, 2018, that the proponents of the petition intended to proceed via direct petition rather than petition and election, the petition itself does not make clear under which of the two incorporation methods it proceeds; and consequently, it is not clear under which of these incorporation methods the individual signers of said petition intended to proceed.”

Regarding the proposed town’s ability to provide services such as water, sewage and sanitation, road maintenance, police services and local government administration, the ruling notes that were was some discussion at a Feb. 23 public hearing of continuing to use funding from the Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District and possibly supplementing that funding with additional local taxes, “no timetables and few details for implementation were presented.

“At this time, planning regarding the funding and provision of services by the proposed City of Holiday Island appears to be in a preliminary stage,” the ruling says.

Ken Mills, a member of Holiday Island Citizens for Incorporation, the committee that worked on the proposed incorporation, said the committee was caught off guard by a change in state law.

Act 1055 of 2017 amended the state code, which previously had prohibited incorporation of an area within five miles of an existing municipality.

Mills said the law was changed while the committee was circulating and submitting its petition. He said the committee first learned of the change when Barr issued his order.

“We can’t do anything until the legislature changes the law back,” Mills said. “We’re dead in the water.”

Mills was critical of Barr’s handling of the situation.

“He juggled us around for four or five months,” Mills said. “Then he put a bunch of crap in there that was not relevant. … He was determined to turn it down. He was just looking for an excuse.”

Later that day, committee secretary Dan Kees issued a press release in response to Barr’s ruling.

Kees said the intent behind the change in state law was to prevent small clusters of people living near large cities from being annexed by incorporation.

“The impact on Holiday Island was totally unintended,” Kees says in the press release.

Kees also says in the release that Barr “had not requested any additional or clarifying information from the committee,” regarding how Holiday Island would finance its operation as a city.

Regarding the two methods of seeking incorporation, Kees writes that the “petition and election” method is reserved for communities of more than 4,000 people.

“The incorporation through a petition was the only permitted avenue available to Holiday Island,” Kees says in the release.

The effort to incorporate will continue, according to Kees.

“Despite the setback this ruling and change in the law has caused, the Incorporation Committee continues to believe that incorporation is vitally important to the future of Holiday Island,” Kees says in his release. “The Committee has committed to continue working to address the new obstacles to incorporation. At such time as the committee resumes the petition effort, the committee plans to also address the other concerns that the Judge communicated in his ruling.”

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