Tupelo mayor criticizes opposition

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. called annexation objections “an expensive mistake” Thursday during the city’s trial to extend its boundaries.
The mayor, during his second consecutive day on the witness stand, said opponents have saddled taxpayers with the growing cost of fighting the expansion.
“I think their objection to this annexation is an expensive mistake, and I regret that,” Reed told Saltillo’s attorney, Jason Herring.
Saltillo is among three main opponents of Tupelo’s plan to take in 16.15 square miles of county land. Lee County and the city of Plantersville also are fighting the move in Lee County Chancery Court.
The trial reached its 14th day but started a month-long hiatus after Thursday’s testimony. It will resume May 24.
“Taxpayers of Tupelo are financing 100 percent of the city of Tupelo’s legal costs in this annexation and 60 percent of Lee County’s,” Reed added. “That’s expensive to the citizens. I regret the loss that this trial has come to. I believe the annexation proposed is reasonable, not a land grab.”
The county has spent about $350,000 in legal and consulting fees since 2008 fighting the current annexation attempt, and the city has spent roughly $458,000.
The price goes up when including the city’s previous attempt starting in 2004. For that, add $428,316 in city expenses and $617,987 in county expenses.
Costs continue to rise as the trial unfolds.
Herring argued the real financial burden will be suffered by residents in the proposed annexation areas. They’ll face higher taxes if the city absorbs them, but not all will benefit from additional municipal services, he said.
He specifically cited one targeted area where the city estimates spending a total of $10,250 in services and facilities over the next five years. Herring suggested it’s a rip-off.
“Residents in Area 6 will receive services worth $10,000 but pay taxes of $57,000,” he said. “That’s a $47,000 difference.”
Reed disagreed, saying city residency has numerous benefits beyond the initial capital investments envisioned in the annexation plan. They’ll get planning and zoning and protection and voting privileges, among other advantages, he said.
Reed sparred with Herring on a host of other issues related to the city’s growth plan, including affordability and feasibility. He also debated county attorney Chad Mask and Plantersville attorney Brian Starling.
Also called to testify Thursday were City Council President Fred Pitts and Tupelo Drainage Task Force Chairman Perry Thomas, who formerly served on the council.
Thomas described the task force’s past and current projects, including the $800,000 investment to improve drainage in the Haven Acres neighborhood. Haven Acres was annexed by Tupelo two decades ago.
The testimony highlighted the city’s ability to aid all areas within its boundaries, but Mask argued the Haven Acres project took 17 years after annexation to complete.
City attorney Guy Mitchell, however, pointed out the task force wasn’t fully formed until 2003. And the Haven Acres project was among its first.
Thomas was the city’s second-to-last witness. Its planning expert, Karen Fernandez, is expected to take the stand May 24. Opponents will then be able to call their own witnesses.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.