By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – City and county taxpayers have spent more than $1.5 million combined in annexation-related fees since Tupelo launched a 2008 bid to expand its boundaries.
The four-year-old case ended Aug. 2 with the Mississippi Supreme Court upholding a 2011 Chancery Court decision in favor of Tupelo despite objections by Lee County, and to a lesser degree, the city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville.
All parties sank money into the venture, but, as the major players, Tupelo and Lee County have invested the most.
The annexation goes into effect today.
As of Aug. 9, the city spent $691,351.49 since the beginning of its annexation bid. Two-thirds of that amount went to its legal team at Mitchell, McNutt & Sams.
Tupelo’s second-highest expense, taking more than a quarter of the total, went to Karen Fernandez of New Orleans-based Fernandez Plans. She had served as the city’s expert witness in the trial and also provided consulting services.
The city also paid court clerks, trial witnesses, an engineering firm, a land surveyor and other costs related to its bid.
As of the same date, Lee County spent even more in its opposition, but funds went to just three sources. Of the $886,584.82, about two-thirds went to the hired legal team at Jackson-based law firm of Carroll Warren & Parker. A quarter went to legal witness and consultant Chris Watson of Oxford-based Bridge & Watson.
County attorney Gary Carnathan, who also helped with the case, earned the rest.
Combined, Tupelo and Lee County spent $1,577,936. The price goes up when including the city’s previous annexation attempt starting in 2004. For that, add $428,316 in city expenses and $617,987 in county expenses.
It’s a grand total of more than $2.6 million. And taxpayers ultimately foot the bill. Tupelo residents get hit twice because they’re taxed by both entities.
City and county officials defended their respective costs as necessary.
“It’s the price you pay when you attempt something like this,” said City Council President Fred Pitts, who took office after Tupelo had filed for annexation.
“Tupelo has to grow and we have to have space to grow in,” he said. “I hate that we had to spend the money to make this happen, but I think it’s worth it.”
Had Lee County and the other municipalities not fought the matter, Pitts said, costs would have been much lower. Had Tupelo’s annexation not threatened Lee County tax revenues or angered its residents, countered county Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan, opposition wouldn’t have existed.
“I think under the circumstances had we had to do it,” he said. “We’ll lose more than $800,000 in revenue the first year” after annexation due to decreased tax collections.
Lee County cedes roughly 2,500 residents and 16 square miles to the city from six different areas, including several high-end subdivisions. Those residents had paid taxes to the county’s fund for roads and bridges, fire protection and garbage collection.
County officials haven’t yet calculated the actual tax revenue loss because it’s still waiting on an accurate household count, Morgan said.