Lee County enters fight against Tupelo annexation

Lee County enters fight against Tupelo annexation

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

The Lee County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to intervene in Tupelo’s annexation bid, adding a powerful and well-heeled ally to the city’s expansion foes.

The vote came as no surprise.

The move followed a short closed-door session, one of several on the subject supervisors have conducted since Tupelo formally unveiled its annexation plans last summer. At the time, supervisors individually signed a letter to Tupelo Mayor Jack Marshall protesting the proposal although they took no board vote.

“I hate to hear that because we feel like we’re following all the necessary guidelines for annexation,” Mayor Jack Marshall said of the board’s action. “I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I have heard they would probably do that.”

Tupelo has proposed taking in an additional 18 square miles on all sides of the city. An initial hearing on the plan is set for Lee County Chancery Court on Jan. 31.

District 5 Supervisor Thomas Kennedy moved to enter the court battle against the city while District 3 Supervisor Charles Duke provided the second.

District 2 Supervisor Everett Swann was not present for Monday’s 4-0 vote, but officials said he supported the fight.

“I can tell you he would have voted for it (intervention) had he been able to be here today,” County Administrator Ronnie Bell said.

The city’s annexation petition names the municipalities of Saltillo, Shannon, Verona, Plantersville and Verona as defendants. Under Mississippi law, municipalities within three miles of a proposed annexed area are automatically included in the court action, although they can withdraw.

Counties are not included, but may intervene in such cases if they choose. The state Supreme Court several years ago upheld supervisors’ rights to fight annexations when municipalities contended counties had no meaningful interest in municipal expansions.

While county property taxes are levied inside and outside incorporated areas, supervisors contended they have an obligation to protect tax bases of fire districts, solid waste districts, and school districts that could be jeopardized by city expansions.

“Frankly, I find that kind of hard to understand because most of the annexed area we’re proposing in inside the Tupelo Public School District,” Marshall said. He noted only Carr Vista of the annexation targets fell outside the city school district. Carr Vista was not a part of the administration’s final annexation recommendation, but was added by City Council vote.

Municipal officials also argue that allowing counties to oppose annexations forces city residents to battle themselves in court. Since city taxpayers also pay county taxes, they in effect fund much of the outlay for both sides.

“That’s unfortunate, but….” Marshall trailed off. “I understand that (the supervisors’ position), so there won’t be any hard feelings. In these matters, you just have to let the court decide.”

Bell said supervisors did not discuss the potential cost of the court fight. Legal outlays for other major annexation battles in the state have run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars on each side.

A group of citizens who oppose the annexation has also hired an attorney and announced plans to fight the expansion. It is not yet clear how many, if any, adjacent towns will oppose the expansion.

Verona has its own annexation plan before the courts, but Tupelo’s effort to include Carr Vista carefully skirts property sought by Verona.

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