Census: Tupelo faces twice the hassle

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Where the people have moved, so too shall the political lines.
The release of 2010 census data will force cities, counties and the Legislature to redraw their political boundaries around residential growth patterns.
It’s a tedious enough process to endure once a decade, but Tupelo could be forced to do it twice because of a pending annexation case before the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Tupelo wants to annex some 16 square miles of county territory along with the roughly 2,500 residents who live there. Although a trial judge ruled in favor of a growth plan last month, opponents will appeal the decision.
Now the city must wait for the higher court to decide the case before it can take the land or the residents – and before it can redraw its ward lines based on the annexation data.
It typically takes 12-18 months for the state Supreme Court to reach a decision.
In the meantime, the U.S. Census Bureau will release its local 2010 population counts in either February or March. Tupelo, along with all other communities, must redraw its lines if population shifts redistribute the balance of power.
They have six months from the release of the data to complete the task.
Early census estimates suggest that Tupelo will have to redraw its lines. And if annexation passes, as city officials expect, Tupelo will have to redraw the lines yet again.
Cost is minimal when using inside experts, such as those made available by Three Rivers Planning and Development District. But the process does require a lot of time and effort.
“Where the real effort is made is you have to have public hearings, have to have proposals put out, then additional public hearings and then get it pre-cleared through the Justice Department,” said Tupelo city attorney Guy Mitchell III. “A tremendous amount of time and effort will be put on elected officials.”
Tupelo’s chief opponent in the annexation case, Lee County, also must go through census-related redistricting. But it’ll happen only once, regardless of the court’s final annexation decision.
County attorney Gary Carnathan said residents in the proposed annexation areas will continue to vote in the same county districts whether or not they’re absorbed by the city.
The county hired an outside consultant for $25,000 to help with the process.