Annexation opposition starts small
By Jeremy Weldon
Two weeks after the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted to proceed with an annexation of three areas of the county, the first wave of opposition has begun.
A small, but vocal, group of residents and business owners from the portion of Hwy. 6 East under consideration for inclusion in the incorporated limits of the city met Monday morning at the Courthouse in Batesville.
The consensus of those gathered was that Batesville aldermen, led by the mayor, are attempting a land grab for tax revenue only – never intending to provide City services (gas, sewer, water) to the annexed areas.
No one defending the City Board’s efforts was at the meeting, which lasted about an hour. Two Panola County Supervisors were in attendance – Board President Cole Flint (Dist. 5), and Donald Phelps (Dist. 4).
Neither was there to speak for the Supervisors, and mostly observed, listening to the objections of the few businessmen and residents of that area. No one with interests in the other proposed areas of annexation attended.
Jarrell Mills opened the meeting, saying that his property is some six miles east of I-55, and two miles from the existing City limits.
“There is just no reason for the city limits to be out there,” he said.
Beside the additional property tax that would be levied if he and neighbors are brought into the City, Mills said the residents and businesses in the proposed area can expect no additional services.
“As far as police protection, I tend to my own,” Mills said.
Wayne Moore, owner of Moore’s Body Shop, attended the meeting and said additional taxation is also his largest concern.
“It’s hard enough to make money out there right now,” Moore said. “I haven’t checked on how much my taxes will increase, but I know it’s going to be something.”
Moore agreed with Mills and others about City services, noting that he already has good fire protection. “As for police, the Sheriff’s Department does a good job now,” Moore said. “They check on our property at night and leave us door hangers saying they were there. I can’t see how that could improve any.”
Russell Paulk, has about 50 acres in the proposed annexation. He told the others he can expect a tax increase of more than $2,300 based on his research.
Paulk, who owns the property at the corner of Hwy. 6 and Bethlehem road where the Southern Agriculture Management business leases a building, ran water line more than a mile to the site to improve the property.
“I would love for the City to take over that line,” Paulk said. But he also noted, along with the others, that much of the area included in a previous annexation has yet to receive full City services.
Residents of the Hunter’s Trace Parkway development were part of the City for many years before sewer lines were installed, for example.
The group fighting the annexation movement was reminded that the City can basically choose which areas to provide gas, water, and sewer, based on a broad definition of “feasibility.”
Calvin Land, former Supervisor, gave the others a short history of annexation in Panola County, telling them of the Mississippi Supreme Court’s findings in the 1997 case where the City of Batesville attempted to take in 20 square miles, but was ultimately limited to about five square miles by the Court.
“I will tell you this for sure,” Land said, “If you intend to fight this, you are going to have to organize and it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
Land, who has long pushed for City gas and sewer on Mill Cross Road, was part of the opposition to the 1997 annexation. He contends its unfair for him (and others) to pay City taxes without the utilities.
“We had a lot of meetings, and did research, and hired a lawyer to fight the City,” Land said. “We won for the most part, but I think it costs people about $40,000.”
This was disappointing news to the few gathered for the meeting. Additionally, it was pointed out that the City might not even be legally bound to hold public hearings about the proposed annexation, leaving the opposition with little recourse other than filing a lawsuit after an annexation is approved.
Those gathered at the Courthouse Monday agreed on one thing, though: They would not fight further annexation if the City would indeed fulfill what they interpret as an obligation to extend services to those areas already in City limits.
“What makes anyone think they will run gas and sewer another two miles,” Mills asked. “It’s been more than 20 years for some of the people in the City and they are still waiting on those services.”
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey has indicated he will urge City Board members to schedule at least one public hearing before the annexation process goes much further.
The Board last month voted to have the consulting firm Slaughter & Associates begin the work of gathering legal descriptions for the exact area they intend to take in.
Those details, along with the actual official ordinance, are expected to take about a month longer to complete.
As for those opposed, it was agreed to contact all the residents involved in the annexation, including those individuals and businesses on the west side of Batesville along Hwy. 6, and attempt to form a coalition to address the City Board.
They will meet again on March 12.