By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – When it comes to understanding the stakes in Tupelo’s annexation bid, look no farther than The Grove.
The upscale subdivision straddles the city’s westernmost corporate limits with some of its properties inside the municipality and some outside. The differences between the two sides aren’t immediately obvious, but they do exist.
For example: City residents have street lights, county residents do not; city residents pay standard municipal utility rates, county residents get charged 50 percent more; city residents are bound by Tupelo’s strict ordinances, county residents are not.
If Tupelo’s current annexation bid is successful, everyone in The Grove will become part of the city, as will some 2,800 other residents living inside the 16.15 square miles the city hopes to take.
The case goes to trial Monday at Lee County Chancery Court.
While some of the subdivision’s county residents say they prefer being outside the city, others want in.
“We seem to get the same services other than the one service that has impacted me,” said Hanna Graff who lives on The Grove’s county side. “I have never lived anywhere where dogs could roam solo, and I’m very afraid of dogs.”
Lee County has no leash law, meaning pets can wander unsupervised without fear of the dog catcher. While it does have an ordinance against abandoned, abused, neglected or dangerous animals, it won’t pick up a dog just because it looks scary.
Tupelo, by contrast, requires all pets be leashed or fenced and enforces that ordinance by rounding up any animal that wanders freely.
“The first time this happened, I called animal control, and they said, ‘You’re not in Tupelo. You need to call Lee County,’” Graff said. “And their response was, ‘If there is any dog bothering you, you need to bring it to us.’ So, I’m supposed to capture this dog?”
That issue alone, Graff said, tilts her in favor of annexation.
She’s not alone. Her neighbor, Sonya Elmer, said she wants to join the city for its increased fire and police protection. Currently, Elmer and other county residents get those services from the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and one of the county’s several volunteer fire departments.
Although the county offers full protection in these areas, the city has more police officers per capita and a 24-hour fire department with full-time firefighters – not volunteers.
Lee County E-911 Director Paul Harkins confirmed his dispatchers call county agencies to The Grove’s county residents and city agencies to its city residents, even if they live right next door.
The Grove was built by developer Gene Taylor in the late 1990s. Five of the 58 lots fell into the city limits, all others are in the county.
Because Taylor had to meet Tupelo’s higher infrastructure and construction standards for one portion of the subdivision, he decided to extend them to the entire development.
“I’d rather have it to city standards than not, just for the people,” Taylor said. “I was building it anyway so I built it to standards to have all the city utilities.”
The city agreed to run water, sewer and garbage services to the county side of the subdivision since Taylor met its requirements. But county residents pay 50 percent more for the same services.
Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons said the subdivision’s average city household pays about $40 per month versus $60 for the its typical county household.
But county residents pay fewer taxes. A look at property tax records for homes in The Grove show city residents paying between $700 to $900 in municipal taxes – an assessment not charged to county neighbors.
Car tags also are cheaper.
For those reasons, The Grove resident Susan Gilbert said she’d rather stay in the county.
“We have everything we need,” Gilbert said. “The only thing that would change, really, is that our taxes would go up.”
But others changes also would occur. For one thing, Gilbert couldn’t hold anymore yard sales without first buying a city permit. And those fireworks her neighbors light each New Year’s Eve would be illegal.
City residents in The Grove declined to be quoted for this interview, but they did say they’re happy living in Tupelo and saw few disadvantages to their situation.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or email@example.com.