Both sides in Tupelo annex case take heart in Horn Lake

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Both sides of Tupelo’s annexation battle found encouragement in this week’s state Supreme Court decision denying a nearby annexation attempt, but for different reasons.
On Monday, the high court upheld the ruling of a DeSoto County chancellor who, two years earlier, had denied the annexation bids of both Horn Lake and Walls.
The town of Walls had tried to enlarge its boundaries by roughly four square miles, Horn Lake by about nine – including almost all of the land sought by Walls. The two communities opposed each other in court.
“Because the chancellor’s findings were based on substantial, credible evidence, were not manifestly wrong, were well within his discretion, and because the chancellor did not employ an erroneous legal standard, the decision of the trial court is affirmed,” the Supreme Court wrote in its decision.
Tupelo attorneys called it a good sign. They want the high court to affirm the findings from its own annexation trial last year, in which the chancellor found in favor of the city.
“I’ve read the decision,” said city attorney John Hill. “It seems to me that what the Supreme Court did in the Horn Lake case is review what the chancellor did there and gave great deference to his finding of fact, which is consistent with what the Supreme Court generally does and what we hope they’ll do in our case.”
Tupelo seeks to enlarge its boundaries by about 16 square miles. But the move is opposed by Lee County, the city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville. The two sides battled it out during a 22-day trial last spring in the Lee County Chancery Court.
Specially appointed Chancellor Edward Prisock approved all but a small portion of Tupelo’s request in late November.
Opponents appealed the chancellor’s ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court in December, and the official record from last year’s trial likely will be sent to the high court next month.
After that, both sides will be invited to file appeal briefs. Lee County attorney Gary Carnathan said the opponents’ legal team will use the Supreme Court’s Horn Lake decision to support its claims against Tupelo.
“The double taxation issue was mentioned in that case and was found to be a negative of that annexation, and that’s exactly the position we are getting into,” Carnathan said.
Double taxation occurs when residents are taxed for both city and rural fire protection. This could happen if a city annexes an area already covered by a rural fire protection district, and if the rural district refuses to relinquish its rights as first responders in an emergency.
In that case, residents would pay city taxes – including those that support city fire protection – as well as county taxes designated for the rural fire protection district.
Prisock “didn’t even consider the double taxation issue,” Carnathan said, “and so the issue then becomes what effect the Horn Lake case has on our case. We will use the results of the Horn Lake case in our briefing process.”
A key member of the county’s legal team, Jackson annexation attorney Chad Mask, also represents Horn Lake. And Lee County’s expert witness, Oxford urban planner Chris Watson, serves as an expert witness for Walls.
It could take about one year before the Supreme Court renders an opinion in Tupelo’s annexation case.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.