Editor's Note: A question was raised following last week's Neligh City Council meeting when the annexation was approved on third reading. Could annexation be reversed? The ACN investigated that question and contacted many individuals in Lincoln and Omaha on the topic.
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Can annexation be reversed if the City of Neligh were to have new council members?
That's the hot question considering all of Neligh's elected officials have been targeted in a recall attempt due to the recent annexation in Neligh. Last week the City Council approved two ordinances annexing property located east and west of Neligh along Highway 275.
The short answer to that question, according to officials, is no. Actually, they said neither current nor new council members can simply vote to reverse annexation since it has passed the three readings.
The question of reversal was posed to numerous experts, including the League of Nebraska Municipalities and several engineers who do not contract with the City of Neligh. All legal council and engineers contacted cited Nebraska Revised State Statute 17-414, which indicates that annexation cannot be reversed simply upon a vote by new council members.
One expert stated, "It's not that simple. To answer your question, no, a new set of city council members cannot just vote to disconnect property that is annexed."
Disconnection of property, they said, is not as simple as repealing an ordinance. If that were the case, new council members could potentially disconnect property of their friends or family very easily. The process, they said, is complex.
A misconception heard often, according to Mayor Joe Hartz, has been that the City must provide utilities to all annexed areas within a year. Hartz clarified during a town hall meeting last month that only a plan is required to be in place within a year, not the actual utilities. The implementation of the plan, he said, can take several years.
Neligh residents Bernadine Hughes and Merlin Mortinson are circulating petitions in an effort to have enough signatures for a recall election against Hartz and city council members Ted Hughes, Stephanie Wanek, Dale Wilkinson and Leonard Miller.
If enough signatures are collected and verified, a special election would occur. If all elected officials were removed, another special election would be necessary to replace the entire governing body. Antelope County Clerk Lisa Payne estimated the cost of one special election to be about $5,000.