Annexation appeal halts city takeover

By EMILY LECOZ / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Much to the disappointment of city officials, Lee County will appeal Judge Edward C. Prisock’s decision allowing Tupelo to annex some 16 square miles of unincorporated land.
County supervisors unanimously voted to appeal Prisock’s November ruling after a half-hour executive session Monday with Jackson-based trial attorney Chad Mask.
Mask, who tried the annexation case in Lee County Chancery Court this spring, referred all questions to Board of Supervisors President Darrell Rankin.
Rankin said they’ll seek an appeal based largely on four factors on which they think the judge erred: the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case; the credibility of the city’s expert witness; the potential for double-taxation to annexed residents for fire protection; and the legitimacy of the city’s services-and-facilities plan, which it’d implement if annexation is successful.
In the judge’s opinion, issued Nov. 22, he found overwhelming evidence supporting annexation and gave the city all but a small portion of the 16.15 square miles of land it had sought.
Rankin said Priscok gave the county little choice.
amp”The ruling was such we felt we had to appeal for the sake of the citizens of Lee County being annexed,amp” he said.amp”I think we stand a good chance of having the whole thing overturned.amp”
An appeal would cost the county roughly $50,000, which Rankin termed a drop in the bucket considering the nearly $1 million taxpayers have spent in legal fees for both sides since the debut.
City attorney Guy Mitchell called the move regrettable.
amp”During the holiday season, a season of unity,,amp” Mitchell said, amp”the supervisors have chosen to continue a course of action of divisiveness on an issue which ultimately will benefit all of the citizens of Lee County.amp”
Mitchell also said he doubts the county will win, because to do so would require them to prove the judge amp”was manifestly wrong in reaching his conclusion in analyzing the city’s evidence.amp” Such a feat is rare, he said.
The county could file its appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court within days, Rankin said. Once it’s filed, it will postpone the city’s annexation until the high court rules on the matter. That could take a year or more.
amp”I was disappointed that we aren’t able to move forward with improving the quality of life of the families involved in the annexation,amp” said City Council President Fred Pitts. amp”And I’m also disappointed that the citizens of Tupelo are now once again funding the city and county legal fees.amp”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.