Annexation costs mount as effort heats up again

TUPELO – Growth isn’t easy, and in Tupelo’s case, it’s not cheap.
Lee County’s taxpayers have spent nearly $1.3 million in the past decade to both fund and fight the city’s annexation attempts. The first two tries ended without a city expansion; the current one is tied up in court.
The most recent hearing was Tuesday in Lee County Chancery Court, as attorneys for both sides negotiated through Judge Edward C. Prisock.
The case could go to trial by late this year, and costs are expected to climb.
Add to the legal fees the roughly $18 million Tupelo promised to invest in the proposed annexation areas – if it succeeds in taking them – and municipal growth becomes a pricey affair.
But it’s one city officials deem necessary. In the years since Tupelo’s previous successful annexation in 1989, commercial and residential properties continue to develop around the municipality’s rim. Residents and businesses there enjoy many of the city’s benefits without paying the taxes or obeying the codes.
If it annexes those areas, Tupelo can collect additional revenues while enforcing stricter building and infrastructure rules. It also gives the landlocked city more area to lure new development.
In return, residents and businesses will get improved police and fire protection and, in some cases, newer infrastructure.
Tupelo is eyeing 16.15 square miles from various areas ringing the city, and it would pull in some 2,850 residents.
But many county residents don’t want it. And they, along with the Lee County Board of Supervisors and the cities of Plantersville and Saltillo, will try to prevent the annexation in court. Lee County was successful at thwarting Tupelo’s previous annexation attempt in 2006 and will use many of the same strategies to try to foil it this time, too.
Saltillo and Plantersville oppose the annexation largely because they believe Tupelo is imposing on their paths of growth.
The two sides have spent more than $1 million combined in the most recent and the current attempt: $617,987 by the county and $428,316 by the city, according to officials from both entities. Tupelo residents fund both sides of the fight since they pay both city and county taxes.
An earlier attempt, in 1997, that also ended in defeat for the city cost roughly $240,000.
As for the city’s successful annexation bids: The first occurred in 1946 when it swallowed the willing town of East Tupelo; the second was in 1989 when it pushed out from all sides and nearly doubled its size.
Both times the city breezed through the process with little opposition. Not so lately, partly because the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in the early 1990s that counties could legally challenge annexation.
Since that time, Tupelo has had nothing but growing pains.

Emily Le Coz/Daily Journal

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