Time for trial for annexation

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After nearly a decade of annexation talks, Tupelo on Monday will plead its case in court.
The city’s annexation trial begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Lee County Chancery Court and will include an estimated five weeks of testimony from both supporters and opponents of the city’s bid to expand its boundaries.
When the trial starts, it will mark the first time since 1989 that a Tupelo annexation bid has reached this stage. All subsequent attempts – one in the mid-1990s and two during the past five years – ended before going to trial.
One was tossed out by a judge for being unreasonable, one was dismissed on a technicality and one was withdrawn by the city to avoid questions of another technicality.
This time, however, the case appears fit for trial.
Specially appointed Judge Edward C. Prisock of Louisville will hear the case. Prisock is a retired as chancellor of the 6th Chancery Court District.
At stake are 16.15 square miles from six different areas ringing the city. Some of the targeted land is undeveloped, but not all. Within these territories are 26 businesses, 20 subdivisions and 2,800 residents.
More than 100 of these residents and one subdivision – Big Oaks – formally oppose the city’s current annexation attempt.
Although their reasons for opposition vary, most complain about higher taxes and stricter city ordinances.
Residents are joined in their fight by the Lee County Board of Supervisors and the municipalities of Saltillo and Plantersville. Government officials say they’re protecting the rights of constituents who oppose annexation; they also fear a loss of tax revenue.
Together, the objectors hope to convince Prisock that the city’s plan for growth is ill-conceived and unreasonable.
The city hopes to prove the contrary. To do so, it must show that each targeted area meets the 12 “indicia of reasonableness” set forth by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
An indicia is a legal term loosely translated as signs or evidence. Among those required by the state are proof that a city needs to expand and that the targeted areas already are within the path of growth. It also must show those areas need city services and that the city financially can provide those services.
City officials say Tupelo needs growth to survive.
“All living things need room to grow,” Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said Tuesday at a City Council meeting. “Tupelo is a living, changing organism.”
If Prisock agrees with Tupelo and grants part or all of the annexation, Lee County and the other opponents will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. That process could last six to nine months.
If the court upholds the decision, annexation would take effect immediately.
City attorney Guy Mitchell said he and his legal team have a solid case. County attorney Gary Carnathan contends he and his team also have a strong case.
“I do think both sides are relying on their attorneys’ opinion of their ultimate success,” Reed said. “We shall all see.”

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