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Annexation plan nears completion

The new year is expected to bring Brookhaven another step closerto annexation, consultants and city officials said.

Mike Bridge, with Bridge and Slaughter annexation consultants,said the firm is preparing a presentation for the mayor and boardof aldermen during a regular or special meeting in January.

“That’s our objective, give or take a couple of weeks,” Bridgesaid, adding the presentation could come in February depending onschedules.

Since the last annexation presentation in July, consultants havebeen meeting with city department heads and coming up with costestimates to provide city services to any annexed areas. Bridgesaid the process is not complete, so estimates were notavailable.

“We anticipate having all that when we meet in January,” hesaid.

At plan presentation meetings, Bridge said board members usuallyask a number of questions. Depending on the answers, the questionsmay lead to a decision to proceed with the plan or raise new issuesthat need to be addressed.

“At some point in time, the mayor and board will say, ‘This iswhat we want,'” Bridge said.

As part of the process, Bridge said the city must have a publichearing followed by a formal determination to go forward. Heencourages cities to not move too quickly on annexation.

“It’s better to be deliberate than do something in a hastymanner,” Bridge said.

According to the preliminary plan presented in July, the citywould expand from the current 7.3 square miles to 21.6 squaremiles. The largest area considered for annexation is south of thecity, although areas on all sides are included in the proposedplan.

In terms of population, the city would increase from 9,861people to 13,123 people.

Of the new total, 50.5 percent would be black and 48.4 percentwhite. The current city population is 51.4 percent black and 47.6percent white.

Mayor Bill Godbold said last week he has not had much feedbackon the annexation issue. A petition opposing annexation, signed by62 residents of the Lakewood Village area, was the only response hehas heard.

“I hadn’t had anybody say yea or nay other than them,” Godboldsaid.

In the petition, submitted to the city in August, residents saythe added tax burden resulting from annexation would outweigh thebenefits they would receive.

“Each of us, for our own reasons, has chosen to live in LincolnCounty for the benefits that it provides,” the petition said. “Wehave already invested in water wells, sewers, and are satisfiedwith our current level of police and fire protection provided bythe county.”

Bridge said opposition to annexation plans is typical.

“You’re never going to have everybody signing on to annexation.You’re always going to have objectors,” Bridge said.

In support of annexation, Bridge speculated that nobody would beliving the annexation area if the city did not exist.

“It is the nucleus around which the economy in that part of thecounty revolves,” Bridge said.

Godbold said many residents outside the city had benefited fromcity services that have been extended beyond the city limits.

One example the mayor mentioned was fire insurance rates. For anumber of residents outside the city, the rates are the samebecause of the willingness of the fire department to go outside thecity limits to fight fires.

“We could stop going outside the city fighting fires,” Godboldsaid. “We’ve given them just about whatever’s inside the city.”

Once city officials decide on an annexation plan and vote topursue it, Bridge said the city will seek a “return date” inchancery court. A return date is similar to setting the case fortrial.

On the return date, the chancellor could make a decision on theplan. If there are objectors, represented by legal counsel, Bridgeindicated the case could go in a number of directions.

“You never know how that return date is going to go,” Bridgesaid.

Bridge said the local chancellor could recuse himself and havethe state Supreme Court appoint a special chancellor. Also, ifthere are objections, the case could move on to a trialsetting.

Objections would lengthen the process.

“If there’s any protests, it’ll take that much longer to hearthem,” Godbold said.

First, however, the city must get and adopt a plan. Bridge saidhe anticipated the city board could make a decision in January orwithin 60-90 days after the presentation.

“I think we’re at a point where this thing is going to roll,”Bridge said.