Columbus expands area under annex possibilities

COLUMBUS — The possibility of annexing Columbus Air Force Base into the city of Columbus could mean several advantages for the city and little to no impact for the base.

The Columbus City Council earlier expanded the area being studied for possible annexation into the city, including CAFB “from right of way to right of way” and not nearby residential areas.

Examples of military bases annexed by neighboring cities are few.

Before the 1990 Census, Shaw Air Force Base was annexed by the city of Sumter, S.C.

“To my knowledge, there was no impact on the base,” said 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson, a Shaw Air Force Base spokeswoman. “Shaw did not need city services, such as city water or sewer. Besides the outstanding support we receive from the Sumter community, the city does not provide any material benefits here.”

Required services likewise already are provided at CAFB; the city would be required to provide expensive water, sewer, fire protection and other services if annexing the surrounding residential areas.

CAFB officials are directed by the U.S. Department of Defense to remain neutral throughout any annexation process, CAFB officials said.

“Decision on any authority for any Air Force military reservation rests with the Secretary of the Air Force,” said Col. Roger Watkins, 14th Flying Training Wing commander. “In the meantime, we need to gather the factual data and evaluate annexation’s impact on the mission of the Air Force and the effect on our airmen, who live on the installation.”

“This is a thorough, methodical and lengthy process that usually takes over a year to complete,” said 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs Chief Sonic Johnson.

CAFB is the largest employer in the region with an economic impact of more than $250 million, according to local officials.

The council advised Consultant Chris Watson, of Oxford-based Bridge and Watson, Inc., to study CAFB as a possible area for annexation, following a recommendation from Columbus-Lowndes Development Link chief executive Joe Higgins.

“I think you’d be foolish not to do it,” Higgins earlier said of annexing CAFB. “I don’t see any adverse impact for them; I think you ought to at least look into it.”

Annexing CAFB would increase the city’s population by about 3,500 people, as well as increasing the city’s average income and education levels.

The council also asked Watson to analyze the possibility of annexing the property on Mississippi Highway 373 on which a new middle school will be located and the property, near the Columbus Riverwalk, where Ruben’s Fish House currently is located.

The council earlier advised Watson to study annexing areas east of Columbus, north of Columbus, along U.S. Highway 45 North and small areas south of Columbus.

Watson is gathering information related to annexing the prescribed areas, including financial calculations determining the financial impact annexation would have on the city, and likely will present the data to the council in January.

Annexation is the legal incorporation of territory.

If the council decides to annex any areas, a city ordinance would be proposed; the next step for annexation would be a hearing with a Chancery Court judge.

If the annexation plans are not contested, a ruling on annexation would be effective 30 days after a chancellor ruled, but if objectors protest annexation, the process could “take years,” Watson said.

Kristin Mamrack/Columbus Commercial Dispatch