TUPELO – When the city officially rests its case in the ongoing annexation trial Tuesday, it will have questioned 17 witnesses in 18 days on a seemingly countless number of details.
But as far as the court is concerned, only 12 points matter. How well the city argued them will determine its success in annexing 16.15 square miles of land.
The Mississippi Supreme Court requires all communities seeking annexation meet one dozen “indicia of reasonableness.”
An indicia is a legal term loosely translated as signs or evidence. Among those required by the state are proof that a city needs to expand and that the targeted areas already are within the path of growth.
What follows are all 12 indicia, plus the city’s response to each as presented during the first weeks of trial. Annexation opponents, including Lee County, the city of Saltillo and the town of Planterville, have tried to debunk the city’s proof at cross examination.
They will begin a more thorough effort at debunking Tuesday when it becomes their turn to call witnesses.
– The municipality’s need to expand: Tupelo lacks adequate land for new growth. About 80 percent of its land is available for development; cities typically should annex when that figure is around 70 percent.
– Whether the area sought to be annexed is reasonably within a path of growth of the city: Much of Tupelo’s growth over the years has occurred along its edges and right alongside the six areas targeted for annexation.
– Potential health hazards from sewage and waste disposal in the annexed areas: Most areas outside the city limits flush waste through septic systems instead of the municipal system. As these areas grow, the soil cannot handle the increased load and septic systems fail. Evidence of this already exists through contaminated fields and ditches.
– The municipality’s financial ability to make the improvements and furnish municipal services promised: The city has one of the state’s strongest bond ratings and holds some $20 million of surplus cash in a rainy day fund. Improvements are slated to cost roughly $25 million over five years. The city likely will issue a bond to cover much of the cost.
– The need for zoning and overall planning in the area: Current growth in the targeted annexation areas includes upper-class homes vulnerable to devaluation unless protected by city zoning laws and codes. Undeveloped land, especially adjacent to the Barnes Crossing shopping district, also needs protection to encourage developerment.
– The need for municipal services in the area sought to be annexed: Not only do these areas need city sewer, but they need greater police presence and fire protection as they continue their trend toward urbanization.
– Whether natural barriers exist between the city and the proposed annexation area: No natural barriers exist.
– Past performance and time involved in the city’s provision of services to its present residents: The city has provided all services previously promised to all residents and continues to constantly improve its offerings as money and time allows.
– Economic or other impact of the annexation upon those who live in or own property in the proposed annexation area: Although residents will pay higher property taxes because they’ll be inside the city, they will likely benefit from lower fire and flood insurance rates.
– Impact of the annexation upon the voting strength of protected minority groups: Minority voting strength in the proposed areas is nearly identical to that inside the city limits, according to the latest census data.
– Whether the property owners and other inhabitants of the areas sought to be annexed have in the past, and will in the foreseeable future unless annexed (because of their reasonable proximity to the corporate limits of the municipality), enjoy economic and social benefits of the municipality without paying their fair share of taxes: Yes, because those people benefit from the city’s shopping district, its sprawling parks and recreational facilities, its entertainment venues, its maintained roads, and its business opportunities.
– Any other factors that may suggest reasonableness: Tupelo’s annexation is vital to its success, which benefits not only the city but every community in the region. In that sense, everyone benefits from Tupelo’s expansion.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal