Sewer exclusions eyed in annex trial

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city will spend millions to upgrade sewer and water in newly annexed areas while some two dozen existing Tupelo households do without.
Those residents’ lack of municipal services – and the costs to provide them – fueled one of the biggest arguments Thursday during the city’s ongoing annexation trial.
The trial began March 29 and is expected to last several weeks. At stake are 16.15 square miles the city wants to annex from six areas bordering its limits.
The move is opposed by Lee County and the cities of Plantersville and Saltillo, whose attorneys are fighting it in Lee County Chancery Court.
Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons spent almost all day on the witness stand explaining the proposed sewer and water improvements for the six areas Tupelo wants to absorb.
The city will provide municipal sewer to septic tank users and upgrade water lines in areas where it’s needed, Timmons explained. Areas also will get city fire hydrants and city street lights. Together, the costs total some $25 million in improvements.
It was the second straight day of testimony about water and sewer; Cook Coggin engineer Brett Brooks spent Wednesday explaining many of the same details.
But Thursday’s discussion veered toward decisions made during the city’s last successful annexation in 1989. At that time, Tupelo extended its water and sewer services to new areas, with the exception of about 25 households.
Timmons said the city omitted those homes because it would take too long to recoup the costs of installing and maintaining the infrastructure. The homes exist in outlying areas with various geographic constraints making service there difficult.
The areas are located along Green Tee Road to the south and off Mount Vernon Road to the north.
One of those unserviced residents testified Monday in court, saying he opposes annexation.
“I don’t have sewage,” said Sylvester Thomas of 2411 Green Tee Road. “I’m really just dissatisfied with Tupelo. The taxes I pay for the service I get, I don’t get any service.”
Lee County attorney Chad Mask challenged Timmons’s decision-making process. He suggested it made no sense to skip Thomas and the others, considering how long it will take Tupelo to recoup its next round of proposed upgrades.
Mask took the capital-improvement costs estimated for each annexation area and divided it by the total annual rates each new customer would pay.
If the city’s only revenue came from new ratepayers, it would take an average of 90 years to recoup the cost of providing sewer to the proposed annexed areas, Mask showed.
“Using the standards the city of Tupelo used to determine economic feasibility in providing sewer to existing areas of the city,” Mask said, “it isn’t economically feasibly, is it?”
TImmons disagreed. He said those figures don’t take into account grant and stimulus money the city might receive to offset costs. It also didn’t consider any new utility customers entering the system.
He cited McPherson Road as an example. The city extended its sewer lines to that area in the early 1990s when it had about one dozen homes. Two decades later, that line serves some 200-300 customers, Timmons said.
The utilities chief also testified that intensified development typically follows new sewer lines. He said he expects a similar trend after the annexation-related improvements.
Trial is expected to resume Monday.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.