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City annexation back on the table

By Jeremy Weldon

More than two years after receiving a detailed base map outlining the options for annexing three areas into the City of Batesville, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen have again taken up the plan to expand the city limits.

Mayor Jerry Autrey brought the matter up Tuesday afternoon at City Hall at the conclusion of the board’s regular meeting.

“We spent all this money and we are just sitting here. I’m ready to do something” Autrey said to Public Works Director David Karr when he had finished his prepared update report.

“You know my feelings on that, Mayor, but the decision is for you and the board members sitting around that table,” Karr said.

Slaughter & Associates, urban planning consultants in Oxford, began in 2017 to gather data and discover surveys for three areas the mayor and board members want to annex. In 2018 the consultants provided the city with reports detailing the number of homes and businesses that would be annexed, along with maps showing those areas.

Since then, the board has periodically brought up annexation, and summoned Slaughter engineers to meetings for updates.

At those meetings over the past two years, the consultants have essentially told aldermen the same thing, namely, that all the preparation for annexation is complete, and they only need to decide exactly what they want to include before another step can be taken.

What aldermen want to include – or exclude – has become the sticking point. All board members have agreed to Areas 2 and 3, but the Area 1 debate is not much closer to resolved than it was in 2017.

Areas 2 & 3 are “corridor” annexations, designed for extend the city’s limits along Hwy. 6 (278) in an effort to control the types of businesses, including site and building design options, that will develop the land in coming years.

If an annexation is finally approved, the new city limits would extend west past Chapel Town Rd., but short of McDowell Rd. To the east, the city would run past Bethlehem Rd. and almost to the point where Terza Rd. (to the north) and Lawrence Bros. Rd. (to the south) meet Hwy. 6.

Area 1 has caused the board division. Area 1 is comprised of the majority of the Airport Industrial Park, which is the newer of the city’s two industrial areas. The other, Harmon Industrial Park located on the west side of I-55, is inside city limits. It’s the area that has all of Batesville’s current industries except the new UPS facility and Cube Ice Co., located in the Airport Industrial Park.

“I think we need to take in the industrial park,” Autrey said. “We are spending thousands and thousands of dollars putting utilities in and we don’t have any authority out there because it’s in the county.”

Autrey has at least one alderman who agrees the city should expand to include the industrial area. Stan Harrison has repeatedly pushed other board members to consider sales tax collections that will be vital to future city budgets, just as the tax payments from Crown, Cork & Seal, Thermos, Insituform, and others industries are now.

Some aldermen have been hesitant to include the area because both the Tallahatchie Valley Cooperative Energy Association and the Mississippi Development Authority staunchly oppose industrial areas being annexed. A theory is that such action is a deterrent to prospective industry because property that is part of a municipality has another level of bureaucracy and potential taxes to consider.

The Panola County Board of Supervisors has made no official declaration about the proposed annexation, but the consensus in that body is that prospective industrial sites should be county-owned only.

Alderman Teddy Morrow said he has not made up his mind about Area 1, and will not until the full board has a meeting that includes representatives from the city, county, TVEPA, and state economic development officials.

“We need to get the county and TVEPA on the same page and figure out why they don’t want this,” Morrow said. “They may tell us a reason. I just want to communicate with them.”

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar, in attendance at the meeting, told aldermen any action taken to limit his office’s ability to attract industry wouldn’t be welcomed news.

“I want it to be a competitive situation,” Azar said. “By you moving out there and taking over the park are you making it more competitive to compete against the other 82 counties in Mississippi and the surrounding states.”

“If all they are looking at is paying an extra tax then that’s not a good thing. I have to be able to go to them with incentives so that I can win these companies,” Azar said. “Filling one of these empty buildings is ten times easier than getting an industry to build on naked land because in that situation they can go anywhere. So I have to be able to go to them with some kind of competitive advantage.”

Karr and the board agreed with Azar’s point, but countered with the reality of dollars spent and future revenue missed.

“The people need to see the benefit of the city having it because the city is putting services

out there,” Karr said. “Is it right for the taxpayers in the city to pay for services in the industrial park when they are never going to pay taxes? Is it right to maintain those utilities out in the county when it’s not in the city?”

City Attorney Colmon Mitchell said he would bring a map from Slaughter & Associates to the next meeting and contact the consultants to ask if any new data had been gathered. As of last year, preliminary counts show about 20 businesses would be incorporated if the annexation is successful, adding sales tax revenue to city coffers each month.

In Sept. 2018, a report from Slaughter estimated the city would gain about $10,000 a month from its portion of the sales tax currently being collected by the Mississippi Dept. of Revenue.