NCLM.ORG 35 loss; Columbus grew by 11.8 percent. Columbus, in 2000, had an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, compared to 5.1 percent in Cincinnati, and 8.7 percent in Cleveland. Columbus enjoyed a triple-A bond rating, while Cincinnati and Cleveland had lower bond ratings. And the population losses weren’t just confined to the cities. The inner suburbs of Cincinnati and Cleveland also experienced population loss. In the decade of the 2010s, the Columbus metro area made up 84 percent of all of the state of Ohio’s growth. As Cox writes, “Nevertheless, from the standpoint of the city of Columbus, and referring back to the table comparing the city with its Midwestern peers, the annexation policy has to be regarded as a success. The city has managed to control its immediate area to its benefit.” As comparable major cities, Charlotte, with over 900,000 residents, and Raleigh, with over 488,000 residents, are today both larger than Cleveland and Cincinnati. Of course, few would argue that a city’s size is good in and of itself. A city’s vitality, though, can depend on its ability to reflect its urban footprint. That fact is seen again in some of the older, industrialized cities of the Upper Midwest. The inability to grow as the surrounding population grew put more service and taxing pressure on the urban city. As more people and businesses left, the tax base declined. That decline put more taxing pressure on those who remain, creating a vicious cycle that causes more businesses and people to leave, and more tax base loss. As pointed out earlier, North Carolina prior to 2012 had one of the more permissive annexation laws in the country. In some ways, that was a result of local governments here—municipalities and counties— having overlapping property tax bases. Neither lost tax revenue based on incorporation decisions. That is not the case in some other states, where service provision and tax disputes can lead to court battles as municipal expansion can cause townships and even counties to lose taxing authority. Those kinds of disputes have also led to specific annexation moratoriums affecting designated cities. Keeping the Pace With the Urban Footprint In a diverse state with large cities, small towns, and large, rural unincorporated areas, it is not surprising that misunderstandings arise about the important role that municipal annexation, land-use planning, and the provision of utilities play in North Carolina’s growth and economic success. Laurie Reynolds, a retired University of Illinois law professor and expert on annexation law, sees North Carolina’s current voluntary annexation laws, along with the provision of water and sewer service as a growth management tool, as being in line with most other states. What would not be in line with the rest of the country, she said, is a state forcing the provision of municipal service outside city boundaries. “That would be shocking. I am not aware of that.” Outside of some complex and unique local disputes, there have been no attempts to do that in North Carolina. Still, in a diverse state with large cities, small towns, and large, rural unincorporated areas, it is not surprising that misunderstandings arise about the important role that municipal annexation, land-use planning, and the provision of utilities play in North Carolina’s growth and economic success. For the success story to continue, city leaders have to keep making that case, even when it is as complex as the fabric of the state. Columbus, Ohio. Photo credit: iStock.