By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The two-day trial to determine whether the designated site for a new hospital will become part of the city of Oxford centered largely on the argument that the site meets all legal requirements for annexation.
Near its end, though, the trial offered a couple of surprise wrinkles.
The 160-acre property south of Highway 6 is planned for a $313 million new facility to replace the current Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi, which the city and Lafayette County sold last year to Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation.
The land is surrounded on three sides by the city. Its then-owners and their tenant petitioned in February for inclusion in the city, and the city agreed. Several individuals with ties to a different site that was rejected by hospital officials, however, filed objections.
City Engineer Bart Robinson, Police Chief Mike Martin and Fire Chief Cary Sallis testified Oxford could readily provide municipal services to the proposed incorporation area. Baptist Memorial Hospital Chief Financial Officer Dana Williams said the new facility will increase the hospital’s economic impact and its healthcare delivery.
Urban planner Mike Slaughter testified at length about each of 12 criteria required for annexation in Mississippi, including a need for expansion, the city’s path of growth, the city’s past performance, and the impact on residents and property owners. He insisted the new hospital site meets them all.
“It makes sound planning sense to include it in the City of Oxford,” Slaughter said. “I don’t think it takes a master’s degree to understand that.”
Catherine Babb, a 19-year-old relative of the owners, was questioned about her status as the property’s only resident. (As the only voter living on the property, she helped the owners meet the requirements for approval by two-thirds of qualified electors.)
Former landowner Bob King acknowledged having Babb live in the house on the property partly to help the annexation effort but insisted she met the requirements of the law.
King offered his own surprise in return. Asked if he had been approached by any other developers, he said, “I received a phone call from Kenny Ferrell,” referring to one of the objectors. “He wanted to know if we were interested in selling the property.”
City officials said the Board of Aldermen had set its sights on the property as early as 2008.
“During our next annexation it would have been annexed,” Alderman Janice Antonow said. “There is tremendous development in this area.”
Mayor Pat Patterson said the $3 million connector road between Old Taylor Road and South Lamar Boulevard that Baptist will fund is “a desperate need” for the city.
Chancery Judge Edwin Roberts gave attorneys on both sides 30 days to file their written summaries of the case, after which he will issue a ruling.