EDITORIAL: Annexation

By NEMS Daily Journal

Today is a milestone in Tupelo’s long-standing attempt to add territory. After years of stops and starts and legal maneuvering by opponents, annexation finally goes to trial.
The city seeks to add 16.15 square miles and about 2,800 new residents with this annexation, which would be the first since a 1989 addition more than doubled the city’s land size. The areas proposed for annexation ring much of the current city limits.
The issue will be decided in Lee County Chancery Court by Judge Edward C. Prissock of Louisville, a specially appointed retired chancellor. Mississippi law gives the judge the authority to determine whether and how much the city may annex, employing a set of a legal requirements the city must meet.
Lee County and the municipalities of Saltillo and Plantersville are opposing Tupelo in court, as are a group of residents in a subdivision proposed for annexation.
The most recent battles over annexation have cost residents of Tupelo and Lee County more than $1.8 million dating back to 2004, mostly in legal fees of similar amounts for attorneys for the city and county. Tupelo taxpayers have had to finance both sides since they pay both city and county taxes, and the bills will continue to rise.
To say that this kind of inter-governmental fight is unfortunate is an understatement. That a compromise could not have been worked out earlier to avoid a court battle does not speak well for the collaborative efforts of overlapping governments.
That said, the city can’t be faulted for pursuing annexation in the face of county opposition. Any city must grow to remain healthy, and those who live on the city’s perimeter and take advantage of its amenities are, by law, subject to being asked to pay more in taxes for those benefits.
Cities that are unable to expand their boundaries almost invariably face a slow deterioration. Tupelo is the economic driver of Lee County, and it’s in every county resident’s interest for the city to remain viable and healthy. To say the city is engaging in a “power grab” by seeking a reasonable expansion of its boundaries is an unfair characterization that misses the point.
The judge will decide what is reasonable after hearing the evidence, but Mississippi law generally favors the concept of municipal expansion. That’s because of a long-standing recognition of the need for economically strong cities and towns.
Of course all this wouldn’t be an issue if Mississippi allowed for consolidated government, and Lee County had the option of ridding itself of duplicative government layers. But that’s not in the political cards, so the fight unfolds today.