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Local

Residents Divided on Oak Island Annexation

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By Peter Biello

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/whqr/local-whqr-765079.mp3

Wilmington, NC – A group of Brunswick County residents has pooled its money to fight the Town of Oak Island's attempt to annex their homes. They've hired a lawyer, who is now reviewing the case, but not all residents see the annexation through the same lens.

Carolina Place is a subdivision of new homes off Long Beach Road, the last stretch before the bridge to Oak Island. The lawns are clean cut and the same shade of green. Sixty-six year old Frank Haithcox lives here with his wife.

They rented on Oak Island before moving to this unincorporated county development. Haithcox says they wanted to own something less expensive than what he could find on the island.

"Much less," he says. "If I'd a bought a house like this, when I bought this one, it would've cost me another $200,000.

Haithcox spent twenty-three years in the Army and more than a decade at the Post Office. Now retired and collecting disability, Haithcox says he lives on a fixed income.

"And I know what my property taxes are now," he says, "but what are they going to be if I get annexed into the city of Oak Island?"

Oak Island property tax is fourteen cents for every hundred dollars of value.

For Haithcox that means an extra $201, assuming the value of his house stays the same, and that's one dollar more than what he's contributed to hire a lawyer.

Haithcox sees this money as an investment against future taxes, but a few doors down James Cheatham says help protect his kids from the reckless drivers in his neighborhood.

"If we annex, then maybe we can control the speeders out here and start getting some speed bumps and getting some more coverage in here."

Cheatham works from home as a mortgage broker. He says he's not happy with how rarely he sees sheriff's deputies patrol his neighborhood. For Cheatham, more taxes means more patrol cars means a safer neighborhood, and people shouldn't complain about that.

"These are the things that sometimes cost a little more money. Like my wife, who has 38 pairs of shoes. You're worried about $25 here or there to save the kids? You know what? Back off the shoes."

Cheatham's neighbors, Jonathan and Rachel Spence, have an eight month old son too young for playing outside just yet. Rachel says she's against the annexation.

"If the residents of Long Beach Road are going to pay for the new sewer system on Oak Island: A, we don't get the benefit from that, and B, probably won't get the supposed benefits from all the other taxes."

Jonathan says he'd support the annexation under certain conditions.

"As long as the town and the people of Carolina Place and the other places around the surround areas have some kind of assurance that we're gonna get something back for it that's equal to the taxes we have to pay out, I'm all for it."

It would be just plain silly to try and make those people miserable out there, says Oak Island Mayor Johnie Vereen.

At his home on the actual island of Vereen says the services they'll receive will be equal to the taxes they pay.

"If they will give us time, we'll show them we'll make good on the promise."

That promise is part of his vision of the town's future. He says Long Beach Road needs to feel more like a town and less like the county.

"And I want to change that. I want it with sidewalks, I want it with lights, I want it with parks, I want it with places for the children to play."

A group of annexation opponents has hired Wilmington lawyer Wes Hodges to fight the annexation. Several years ago Hodges stomped out Oak Island's attempt to extend its boundaries. So far Hodges hasn't publicly spelled out his argument against this annexation.

If he doesn't file a petition, Carolina Place, along with land around Long Beach Road and Oakwood Glen, will join the town by September of next year. If he does file a petition, Vereen says he'll meet the challenge in court.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please e-mail us, we'd like to hear from you.news@whqr.org.