They say a woman’s work is never done but another group of people whose work is never done is the group of Guilford County employees who try to settle county line issues.
The North Carolina General Assembly voted two weeks ago to confirm a straight border between Guilford County and Alamance County – settling a decades-old dispute – and now those same county officials must turn and address a similar issue with Rockingham County regarding the line to the north.
In the case of both the county’s border with Alamance County and Rockingham County, a straight line was formed and marked when Guilford County was established. However, over the years, people who live near the line either got confused as to which county they lived in or they just decided they lived in the county they wanted to be in. In the Alamance County situation, people almost always chose Alamance, with a lower property tax rate.
For the last 15 years, a county line dispute has dragged on between Guilford and Alamance counties, but that debate was finally put to rest when the General Assembly voted unanimously to support a bill sponsored by State Rep. Jon Hardister that confirmed the line. Now, those who live along the line will start paying taxes, attending school and voting in the counties where they actually reside.
But everything old is new again, and, in this case, the new problem is the Guilford County/Rockingham County line. On Wednesday, June 27, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne sent a letter to Rockingham County Attorney John Morris.
It reads, “As you probably know, over the decades some errors and confusion have arisen over the precise location of the Rockingham/Guilford County boundary line. This sort of problem is not uncommon between counties and up to recently has been dealt with by the counties on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. This can be a long and cumbersome process.”
Payne’s letter explains that the North Carolina General Assembly offers a mechanism to get these types of county line issues resolved in a faster and less painful fashion. The letter recommends that Guilford and Rockingham counties – just as Guilford and Alamance counties did 10 years ago – petition the North Carolina Geodetic Survey Office to “find and reestablish” the county line.
Payne wrote that it is an “effective and efficient way to resolve county line issues and a lot of counties across the state may try to take advantage of it.” Payne added that he believes there will be a backlog of requests soon. Therefore, he wrote, the sooner the two counties act, the better. Payne wrote that Guilford County stands ready to request the survey at any time.
Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis said this week that Guilford County and Rockingham County have a disagreement about much of the line.
“It’s from the center part of the county over to the east,” Chavis said of the disputed area. “The area of overlap widens from the center eastward.”
Chavis said Guilford County has the line going farther north while Rockingham has it farther south.
“Neither of us knows where the line is,” Chavis said of himself and the tax director of Rockingham County.
That, of course, means questions as to which county some property owners should pay taxes in. It also creates other questions, such as where kids should attend school and which emergency responders should serve homes or businesses near the line. As more development occurs along the Rockingham County line, the questions have gotten more frequent.
It was the same story with the Alamance County line: As long as the area was largely cow pastures and woods, not much hung on the matter; however, once the land along that border had homes, with students and voters rather than cows and trees, it mattered a great deal. The area along the Guilford County/Rockingham County line has seen a lot of new development in recent years, and with new municipal water lines coming to southern Rockingham County soon, the matter is even more pressing.
Meanwhile, there is still work to be done on the line the state just reestablished between Guilford and Alamance counties. State lawmakers have affirmed the line but the two counties have to go property by property to make determinations based on the new findings and inform the property owners of the results
“Now the real work begins,” Chavis said.
He also said the tax departments and legal departments of the two counties will work together to see where everyone should pay taxes.
The agreement also accommodates those affected residents. For example, students who are attending school in one county now but are found to live in a different county will be allowed to graduate from their current school.
Payne said it’s now a matter of clean up work.
“Now we just have to do the things we always do with county lines,” he said.
Hardister said he’s glad to finally see the Guilford County/Alamance County issue resolved, and he added that he’s just starting to hear about the line issue with Rockingham County.
Sometimes two counties with a line dispute end up with a redrawn haphazard line meant to appease residents but that can be a very tedious process.
“I prefer to go with a straight line,” Hardister said.
Alamance County and Orange County had a dispute over the county line and the two created a “zigzag” line that gave property owners along the line a choice as to which county they were in. The complexity of that experience may have been one reason Alamance County finally agreed to a straight line with Guilford County.
Hardister said he was pleased state legislators were willing to go along with the will of Guilford County and Alamance County.
“There was really not much debate,” Hardister said. “I explained that Guilford County and Alamance had reached an agreement.”
County officials are hoping that the resolution with Rockingham County will be easier than the incredibly long and difficult process Guilford County had with Alamance County.
In 2012, the Guilford County commissioners voted to go along with Alamance County’s effort to create a new zigzag county line with residents who lived very close to the line deciding which county to live in. But the Guilford County commissioners later didn’t like the fact that 61 property owners elected to go into Alamance County while not one wanted to be in Guilford County with Guilford County’s higher tax rate.
At that time, it was estimated Guilford County would lose about $8.5 million of property tax value to Alamance County, which would have meant about $65,000 annually in tax revenue.
As for the dispute with Rockingham County, tax officials are still looking at the value of the property involved. Chavis said it’s too early to tell which county will come out ahead in the end.