• 72°

Annexation ‘primer’ short on new info

Brookhaven’s annexation consultant Wednesday offered KiwanisClub members a glimpse of city expansion plans, although one clubmember charged that “secrets” were being withheld.

Consultant Mike Slaughter and City Attorney Joe Fernald said thepresentation was a “primer” on annexation to give the club an ideaof how the process would work and a general overview of demographicdata related to the city’s expansion. Fernald said the city iscurrently in the evidentiary discovery phase of its chancery courtcase and therefore could not go into many specifics.

“A lot of it we can’t get into today,” Fernald said.

According to annexation study information, the total citypopulation would rise from the current 9,861 to 13,198. In racialbreakdown, the city is currently 47.6 percent white and 51.4 black;if annexation is approved, the percentages would be 48.7 percentwhite and 50.2 percent black.

Slaughter also discussed the process cities follow in anannexation and the 12 indicia of reasonableness that must be shownin support of the city expansion.

“In Mississippi, every annexation is required to go to trial,”Slaughter said.

A status conference on the city’s annexation plans is scheduledfor May 6. Judge Ed Patten is expected to set up a scheduling orderfor a trial date and other action at that time.

“He will enter a scheduling order even if he decides to recusehimself,” Fernald said, adding that Patten has not decided whetherto do that.

At a preliminary hearing in March, Patten voiced concerns aboutthe amount of time the annexation case could take. If he stepsaside, a special master would be appointed to hear the case.

Slaughter described the city’s annexation proposals as wellthought-out and in the best interest of the city and county.

Some club members pressed for more specific information during ashort question and answer session.

Johnny Perkins, citing that the city is more than doubling itssize, asked if the city has a plan for providing police and fireprotection after annexation is approved. Those services areprovided immediately after an annexation while other services, suchas water and sewer, the city has five years to provide.

Perkins, a city resident, expressed concerns about possibledilution of services to current city residents.

Slaughter said the city has a plan, but he refused to elaborateon specifics.

“We cannot go forward without presenting a plan,” Fernaldadded.

Perkins continued to ask questions about the plan, but to noavail.

“Is it as good as the city’s plan for downtown garbage?” Perkinsquipped, referring to discontinued commercial garbage service.

Bill Boerner, a county resident, encouraged city officials tooffer property tax comparisons related to how much the expansionwill cost in added taxes versus service benefits.

Fernald said the city is working on those comparisons but didnot want to release them until after the May 6 status conference.Mentioning that only one attorney has filed a notice of appearancefor annexation opponents, Fernald said the city wanted to get abetter idea about the level of opposition to expansion plans.

“We think that will help a lot,” Fernald said.

Boerner said tax comparison data could possibly reduce some ofthe opposition.

Many residents in the proposed annexation area already pay cityschool district taxes, which make up a large portion of the taxlevy inside the city. Therefore, the additional taxes may not be asmuch as some people think, according to a brief discussion amongclub members.

Perkins questioned why that and other information was not beingmade public.

“It’s a lot of secrets,” Perkins said.

Another aspect of the city annexation is the make up the boardof aldermen.

With its current population under 10,000, Brookhaven is to berepresented by five aldermen instead of the current seven. Theannexation would push the city population back over 10,000, butSlaughter said that was not a primary motivating factor in pursuingthe expansion.

Fernald said redistricting plans are being drawn for both afive- and seven-member board.

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Brookhaven’s annexation mustbe pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. If the city’sannexation is not pre-cleared in time for the 2005 elections,Fernald said the five-member board plan would be used.

Residents in the annexed areas could not vote until an electionafter the annexation and ward line plans are pre-cleared, Fernaldsaid.