By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors share Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton’s intentions of goodwill, but they’d still like city tax dollars to compensate volunteer fire departments for revenue losses after a lengthy annexation decided in court.
As Shelton appeared before the supervisors Monday at a scheduled meeting, District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan asked if the mayor was aware of the “fire department situation.”
Morgan and other supervisors seek an undisclosed amount of compensation to county volunteer fire departments for loss of income from annexation that ended in 2012, something Morgan called the “gentlemanly” thing to do, even though the city is under no legal requirement to do so.
“I think I heard about that before I took office,” Shelton said.
Annexation by the city of Tupelo to add nearly 16-square-miles and about 3,100 new residents ended after a costly legal battle that involved several local governments. Among those resisting Tupelo’s annexation was the town of Plantersville, which was represented by Shelton, an attorney.
The ongoing issue between the city and county volunteer fire departments involves areas annexed by the city and now provided city fire protection, while volunteer fire departments that covered the areas before the annexation continue to do so. Those volunteer fire departments continue to tax the new city residents, amounting to double taxation for overlapping fire protection. State law allows both assessments to continue.
Morgan said volunteer fire department commissioners seem ready to vote to remove the 4-mill tax for city residents recently annexed but would like to receive a one-time compensation from the city to help make up for the lost revenue if volunteer fire departments cede the annexed areas to the city as the sole provider of fire protection.
Morgan acknowledges the county has no legal way to enforce the request but hopes Shelton, who sided with the county during the annexation trial, would see the point of view of the county.
“We think that since he represented Plantersville that he might see it favorably on our side,” Morgan said.
After the meeting, Shelton wouldn’t say whether he supported giving city tax dollars to county volunteer fire departments.
“It isn’t a matter of support or being for or against,” he said. “I don’t have all of the facts and it will be something to be worked out in the future.”
Supervisors said they made the request to the city more than a year ago and would like to get an answer soon.
The Tupelo City Council would have to approve any financial decisions related to the request.
As for other issues, Shelton said he’d like a spirit of shared partnership.
“I’m really committed to the process of working with the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff’s department,” Shelton said. “We’re all in the same boat, Tupelo and Lee County.”
While no specifics were discussed Monday, Shelton, Johnson, board president Bobby Smith and other city and county officials have discussed revisiting conversations for a shared county and city law enforcement facility.
Leaders of both the Tupelo Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s departments have voiced intentions to pursue new facilities. Plans for a shared facility were discussed during former Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s administration but eventually dropped.
Smith said no specific discussions about shared facilities have taken place but Shelton’s appearance today was a good sign.
“I think this had to be the first step to get there,” Smith said.