Annexation appeal up in the air: Lee County might wait until Dec. 6

TUPELO – Annexation opponents expressed shock, disappointment and, in some cases, resignation, over a judge’s decision to approve nearly all of Tupelo’s 16-square-mile growth plan.
But no one has yet decided to appeal the ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The appeal deadline expires in 30 days, after which point the annexation becomes official.
“I’m really, really disappointed,” said Lee County Board of Supervisors President Darrell Rankin. “I had not expected that. I thought he would have made a Solomon’s decision and kind of split the baby.”
In his ruling Monday, specially appointed Judge Edward C. Prisock sided with Tupelo on each of its six proposed annexation areas, deciding to remove only a portion of one district from the plan.
The excluded portion includes all the land bordering the current city limits from near the intersection of West Main Street and McPherson Road south and east to the Garrison Subdivision off Green Tee Road.
Everything else, including Indian Hills, Big Oaks, Deer Park Estates, The Summit, Charleston Gardens, The Grove and Ravenwood subdivisions, as well as about two dozen businesses and some 2,500 residents, will be annexed unless opponents win an appeal.
Dozens of residents opposed the annexation, but only Lee County, the city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville fought the case in court. The trial unfolded over the course of 22 days this past spring in the Lee County Chancery Court.
“I’ve been inundated with phone calls from people saying they are unhappy with the judge’s decision,” said Lee County attorney Gary Carnathan, adding that while he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, he disagrees with it.
Carnathan also said supervisors haven’t had a chance to discuss the next step. They aren’t scheduled to meet again until Dec. 6, and at least one other community will base its reaction on Lee County’s move.
“If Lee County or Saltillo file an appeal, Plantersville will join but I don’t anticipate Plantersville taking the lead on our own,” said the town’s attorney, Jason Shelton.
“You have to commend the judge for the job he did,” Shelton said. “He had a tremendous amount of evidence and testimony to go through, and he did an outstanding job on digesting material and delivering a timely decision. Although it’s not how we wanted it to go, I respect his decision.”
Prisock declined to comment on his ruling.
Saltillo attorney Jason Herring, who was out of town and hadn’t yet read the judge’s 25-page decision, said he wants to review the document before deciding what happens next.
In making its case for annexation, Tupelo said it needed the room for future growth. Opponents, however, disliked the idea of paying higher taxes for services they said they didn’t want. The municipalities also feared that Tupelo’s annexation could restrict their own growth.
But at least one annexation opponent said Tuesday that it’s time to accept fate and move on.
“It’s like I told my wife this morning, it was going to happen sooner or later so they might as well stop spending money and just accept it,” said Big Oaks resident Buford Easter. “I’m not happy with it, but that’s about all I’ve got to say.”
County resident Rudy Dossett III also opposed the annexation, even though his property falls just outside the city’s sights. He said he feels sorry for those who now likely will become Tupelo residents.
“You can voice your opinion, but it’s all based on what a judge thinks,” Dossett said. “After working in the city all day long, it’s nice to go out there where it’s peaceful and quiet.”
But Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said the city will do its best to make all Tupelo residents – current and future – happy with the situation.
“It’s an opportunity and a responsibility,” he said in a press release issued Tuesday. “We look forward to welcoming our newest citizens into one of the South’s great small cities; I will do everything I can to make this annexation a win-win for everybody.”
The city will spend about $25 million extending infrastructure and services to the annexation areas after the ruling becomes official. It also must redraw its ward lines to include the new residents, as well as the new census data collected in the latest decennial population count.
If the annexation goes through, it will be the city’s first expansion since 1989.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal