Tupelo wins first battle over annex

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city’s long-awaited annexation trial will proceed after a judge blocked an attempt to have the case dismissed Monday.
Attorneys on both sides spent the trial’s first hour arguing over whether the city failed to comply with state statutes.
Annexation opponents said Tupelo should have notified the public after filing its second court petition late last year. The first petition, filed in 2008, had been voluntarily withdrawn on a technicality.
City attorney Guy Mitchell argued that state statute doesn’t require the city to notify twice and that its first notification was sufficient.
Judge Edward C. Prisock ultimately agreed with the city and allowed the trial to proceed, but attorneys for the opponents warned their argument will surface again.
“We’ll bring it up on appeal,” said Jim Carroll, one of three attorneys for Lee County. “Why take the risk?”
The scene played out in Lee County Chancery Court with a packed courtroom of city and county officials, as well as numerous residents and members of the media.
Lee County is joined by the cities of Plantersville and Saltillo, as well as by more than 100 residents in formal opposition to Tupelo’s annexation bid.
Attorneys for all three communities raised the objection jointly. They said it wasn’t a delay tactic, but a sincere effort to assure that all residents are notified of the trial.
They also said it would save time and money; if the argument wins on appeal, the case will have to be tried all over again.
“The legal foundation … needs to be certain,” said Saltillo’s attorney Jason Herring, “before we proceed with a six-week trial.”
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.
Tupelo says it needs growth to stay viable and claims the proposed areas already are within the city’s natural path of development.
Opponents argue 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.
This is Tupelo’s first annexation trial in more than two decades even though the city has actively sought growth since 2002. The most recent successful annexation was in 1989.
After the morning arguments, Prisock set a trial schedule that included dates for individual citizens to testify. Citizens will testify April 12-13. The rest of the time will be filled with expert testimony.
Trial will last from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a 90-minute lunch break. Attorneys will not be allowed to talk to the press until the trial concludes.
After Monday’s lunch break, Prisock boarded a bus to tour the proposed annex areas.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.