EDITORIAL: Wasteful feud

By NEMS Daily Journal

There’s a break in the action in the marathon Tupelo annexation trial, although “action” is probably too strong a description.
The legal proceedings, which began March 29, have already covered 14 days in the courtroom over a four-week period. After testimony last Thursday, the trial recessed and will resume May 24 – probably for at least a couple of additional weeks.
The lengthy duration and extraordinary expense of this feud among overlapping and neighboring governments continues to be a burden to the taxpayers and a hindrance to progress.
A pre-trial settlement between Tupelo and Lee County would have been much preferable, but it became clear in recent years that anti-annexation sentiment was too strong among at least some county supervisors for any true compromise to occur.
That’s unfortunate. It’s abundantly clear that the overall economic and social health of Lee County won’t be aided by hemming in its core municipality. If Tupelo sees its tax base and services decline because it isn’t able to capture the growth that naturally flows from the city, the surrounding area will eventually suffer as well.
That’s not mere speculation; it’s been borne out by the experience of other municipalities in Mississippi and elsewhere. Where cities are unable to expand, city tax bases dry up and services and quality of life deteriorate, leading to population decline and problems such as increased crime that cross over municipal borders.
Most disturbing in this legal conflict is that taxpayers in Tupelo – who are also citizens and taxpayers of Lee County – are paying double, financing both the pro-annexation arguments of the city and the county government’s opposition. As Mayor Jack Reed Jr. pointed out on the stand last week, Tupelo residents are paying 100 percent of the city’s cost and 60 percent of the county’s.
If there’s a more glaring waste of taxpayers’ dollars, it’s hard to imagine.
Yet the trial and the opposition will continue next month. The city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville have joined Lee County in challenging Tupelo for reasons that are hard to justify for their municipal taxpayers as well.
The annexation Tupelo proposes is fair, prudent and reasonable. It doesn’t overreach.
Were it a case where the city were attempting to take in an enormous swath of territory that it obviously could not service, opposition by the county government and others could be justified. But that’s not the nature of this annexation attempt.
Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being needlessly expended anyway.