By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo this month will grow by nearly 16 square miles and approximately 2,500 residents after the Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a two-year-old approval of its annexation plans despite the objections of Lee County and surrounding municipalities.
In an 8-0 vote, Supreme Court justices rejected an appeal filed by Lee County, the city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville against the November 2010 ruling of Chancellor Edward C. Prisock, who had sided with Tupelo following a lengthy trial in April and May of that year.
Barring one last available maneuver by the opposition, Tupelo’s annexation goes into effect Aug. 12.
“It’s a total victory,” said Tupelo attorney Guy Mitchell III upon learning of the high court’s decision. “The city of Tupelo can now move ahead with all of its plans.”
Those plans include expanding its borders and its services to the newly annexed areas.
Tupelo’s new residents will immediately receive increased police and fire protection, land use protection, twice-a-week garbage pick-up and recycling opportunities.
Other services like street lights, improved streets and sewer service to the areas that don’t have those services will take longer to implement. In addition, the new residents will be eligible to vote in city elections as soon as the decision is final.
But residents in the expanded areas also will be subject to city taxes, codes and ordinances – a fact that had irked numerous people who argued that they’d moved to the county to avoid such regulations.
“All I can say is, we spoke for them, we stood up for them, and we adhered to their wishes,” said Lee County Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan. “But the court ultimately had the final decision. The court spoke. We just have to face the consequences.”
Lee County had opposed Tupelo’s annexation plans since they first materialized in 2002.
Its attorneys defeated Tupelo’s first attempt shortly thereafter, and it tried again this time but failed. Tupelo has said it needs growth to stay viable and claims the proposed areas already are within the city’s natural path of development.
Opponents have argued annexation will cut into county revenues and raise taxes for those within the targeted areas. They also claim the city doesn’t really need the land.
Tupelo stands to collect an estimated $650,000 in new taxes per year, but it will spend some $25 million over the next five years to extend services to the newly annexed areas.
Costs include hiring five new public works employees, four new police officers, three new firefighters, one new building inspector and extending water, sewer, street lights and other services to the new areas.
Until this week, Tupelo’s most recent annexation was in 1989.
County attorney Gary Carnathan wasn’t immediately available for comment. Saltillo city attorney Jason Herring, though, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling.
“Obviously,” he said, “we were disappointed after a lengthy 22-day trial and several years of litigation.”
The opposition has one final opportunity to fight the annexation by requesting a motion to reconsider, Herring said. But chances of its success are slim, Mitchell said, considering the justices’ vote was unanimous.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said the city looks “forward to welcoming our new citizens. Tupelo is a great town. A strong county seat makes for a strong county.”
For more information – Check out a Question & Answer about Annexation in today’s NEMS Daily Journal.