By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi has a tangled system of overlapping local governments. In Lee County alone, there are nine municipalities in addition to the county government.
In such a system the natural tendency is toward turf-protection and competition rather than cooperation. Nowhere was that on more prominent display than the recent Tupelo annexation.
Lee County spent several years and nearly $900,000 fighting expansion of Tupelo’s city limits. Tupelo’s annexation was reasonable and well within the parameters of state law, as recognized in the unanimous decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court in denying Lee County’s appeal.
The most distressing thing about that battle was that Tupelo’s taxpayers were hit twice, financing both the city’s effort and the county’s opposition.
Too often it’s forgotten that residents of municipalities are also county taxpayers.
It was in the aftermath of the finally concluded annexation fight last week that the Community Development Foundation hosted a joint meeting of the Tupelo City Council and the Lee County Board of Supervisors. At the meeting, both entities vowed to put past differences behind them and work together.
The impetus for the meeting was a recent CDF-organized trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., which has achieved national attention for its revitalization efforts. A major factor in Chattanooga’s success, Lee County and Tupelo officials who made the trip discovered, was a collaborative spirit between city and county governments.
Lee County and Tupelo – as well as the other municipalities in the county – have better city-county relations than a lot of places. Much of that is owed to the influence of CDF over the years. The economic development organization has been the principal catalyst for what cooperative undertakings there have been, and it brings together representatives from the county and all its municipalities in regular Council of Governments meetings.
But there’s plenty of room to improve and expand joint efforts and to avoid needless, self-defeating competition.
We’ve said it many times, and we still believe it: A metro-style consolidated government would work best for Lee County. But such an option is not currently permitted by state law, even if the citizens were to choose it, and the political reality is that the situation’s not going to change anytime soon.
So the task for Lee County, Tupelo and neighboring governments is to step up efforts to reduce the overlap, duplication and competition that hinder efficiency and progress. Last week’s meeting was a good start at getting that task back in focus.