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Outlining the case against annexation

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
May 10, 2004
Organizers of a local citizens group say they are prepared to defend their property as an Aug. 2 court date approaches on Meridian's plans to annex 11.8 miles of land in Lauderdale County.
A.M. "Bubba" Martin, head of Citizens Against Annexation, and Albert Herrington, vice-chairman and head of the Eagle Pointe Homeowner's Association, met with The Meridian Star editorial board last week to discuss the upcoming case
The Meridian Star: One of the reasons a city is allowed to annex an area is if residents of that area, because of their proximity to the city limits, enjoy the benefits without paying their fair share of taxes. Wouldn't that be the case for your area in north Lauderdale County?
A.M. "Bubba" Martin: There are a lot of folks living a lot closer than we are. How is it that we are taking an unfair advantage of the city by coming here and shopping than the people of Tanglewood, Poplar Springs Drive and other areas?
My house is two miles from the city limits, but it's eight to 10 miles from the economic center. So I'm still a fair distance away from going to town to do business. This area is not unique. All of the citizens residing around the city limits of the city of Meridian, quote, enjoy that same benefit. But yet they are not being considered for annexation. Why?
The North Lauderdale area, most of the subdivisions have sewage treatment capability. There is no benefit that we can derive from being in the city that we don't already have in the county.
Albert Herrington: The proposed area of annexation is directed at the upper end tax base.
The Star: There has been some controversy recently in Meridian about certain basic services, such as water, sewer and street repairs. Does this concern you, considering you could become a city resident? And how will this impact the annexation case?
Herrington: Basically we look at what's happening with the city's streets as evidence that is going to be in our favor. The one our attorneys are going to make the most of is the municipality's financial ability to make improvements and furnish services as promised, especially when they haven't provided them in the previously annexed areas.
Martin: It took them seven years to cut the trenches in Scruggs Road, Tanner Road, Tanner Circle and Pippen Road in order to put the sewer mains in. The folks there already had water, they were getting that so that wasn't a big push. But sewer was.
They were deeded that property into municipality in 1995, that was the final decision of the Supreme Court. It was not until the fall of 2002 that they completed the sewer work on Pippen Road, Scruggs Road, Tanner Road, Tanner Circle, and they left those horribly-rutted roads for a year. They were not paved until this last Christmas, with a lot of hoopla from the board of supervisors providing the equipment and the city of Meridian providing the asphalt. So these folks finally, eight years later, got their sewer lines covered up.
The Sweet Gum Bottom Road area still hasn't gotten any services. The city has grants in place to enable them to run a water line to the west side of Sweet Gum Bottom Road and those citizens on the west side would get water. They also have a grant for providing sewer. Those have not been provided yet.
Then there was the recent publicity about the city of Meridian about tying into Marion's temporary water line for the new I-20/59 industrial park for water supply and running that line up Sweet Gum Bottom Road.
The Star: Shortly after Meridian officials announced their latest annexation plans, there was a rumor circulating about Lauderdale County dropping its defense of the annexation if the city dropped the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Industrial Park area from its plans. Do you believe this to be a legitimate possibility and how would that affect your case?
Martin: At our first town meeting back in September of 2002, the statement was that certain individuals in the Sonny Montgomery Industrial Park had been promised that the city was not going to annex them into the city. To my knowledge, that remains a rumor, although there is some attempt to determine the validity of that. In Mayor Smith's deposition he only acknowledged that two out there had had conversations with the city. He was prevented from making a further statement on the advice of his attorney. We were seeking to find that out are there dealings with either the occupants of the industrial or the county and we could not get an answer.
The county has requested the attorneys give them a pro and con evaluation of the situation in terms of what's the county's position if Montgomery Industrial Park is excluded. What does that still mean to the county in terms of the rest of the proposed area of annexation to risk. They don't break even simply by this.
The city of Meridian wants to put the maximum economic impact onto the citizens. To do so, they would offer the county excluding the industrial park.
Herrington: We've had a lot of help because the county's also involved in it, representing the Montgomery Park. Without their involvement, it would be almost impossible to come up with the funds to do the whole thing.
I do know that there are some supervisors who are concerned about what happens to the rest of the county that was included in those original 53 square miles if this goes through. Would there be a domino effect in which the last three phases have no opposition. So in that regard, there could be more interest in them than just the industrial park.
The Star: How does the history of the city fit into this annexation, considering past annexations? How will this annexation, in your opinion, benefit the city?
Herrington: When Meridian first started its annexation plans back in the 1960s, the city had more people living here. They've had at least five annexations since that time and today the population is less than it was then.
Martin: With that history in mind, I don't think this annexation plan will benefit anyone in East Mississippi, including the city of Meridian. Just simply gobbling up real estate simply to increase the numbers doesn't work. In 1960, the city had a population of 49,374 people. As of the 2000 Census, the city was at 39,968.
My personal opinion is that the city seeks a population of 50,000 plus. They want their numbers wherever they can get them.