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Objectors Say City of Brookhaven Can’t Afford Annexation Plan

The City of Brookhaven begins making its case to annex more than16 square miles of the county Wednesday, while objectors will tryto show the city cannot meet its expansion-related obligations.

The trial, to be heard by Special Chancellor John C. Ross Jr.,starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Lincoln County Chancery Court. It isexpected to last two to three weeks.

“It really depends on how many questions the opposition has,”said Mike Slaughter, the city’s annexation consultant.

Slaughter is expected to be a key witness as the city attemptsto meet the 12 indicia of reasonableness to show the annexation canbe done. The indicia involve such issues as need, zoning, economicimpact and others.

More than 200 objectors, mostly from within the proposedannexation area, are challenging the expansion.

“We’ve got our people going over it, and we don’t think they cando it,” said attorney Carlisle Henderson, who is representing thebulk of the objectors.

Hattiesburg attorney Jerry Evans is representing a smaller groupof objectors while urban planner Kathy Garner has been retained tochallenge the city’s findings. Garner has said the city’sannexation area is one of the largest she has seen.

“According to our analysis of city resources, the city cannothandle this area financially,” Henderson said.

However, Henderson said financial consideration is only “oneprong” of the criteria the city must meet. He was skeptical of itsability to justify and support other indicia, such as path ofgrowth factors.

“They’re taking in farm land. That’s not path of growth,”Henderson said.

Henderson did not want to divulge any trial strategies, but saidhe, Evans and Garner are ready to challenge the plan.

“From our perspective, they cannot handle the requirements andobligations that the annexation will put on them,” Hendersonsaid.

According to demographic data about the annexation, theexpansion would increase the city’s land area from 7.3 square milesto 23.9 square miles. In terms of population, the total would risefrom the current 9,861 to 13,198.

Slaughter also did not discuss specifics of the city’s case oroffer an opinion on its reasonableness. He expected those topics tobe addressed in the trial.

A Services and Facilities plan prepared by consulting firmBridge and Slaughter, though, offers projections on the city’sability to handle the annexation. Slaughter said the budget revenueand expenditures data is based on the city’s historical trendsduring the last five years.

“We used those to make our projections for five years into thefuture,” Slaughter said.

The plan projects a total of 42 new employees, at an annual costof $1.4 million, would be needed to meet city obligations in thenewly-annexed area. Twenty-eight pieces of equipment, includingcars, truck and larger machines, at an annual cost $261,413 areprojected to be needed.

In terms of revenue, the proposed area is expected to generate$1.64 million in the first year after annexation, rising to $2.09million over the next five years. The total expense for servicingthe area is shown at $1.57 million in 2004 and dropping to $1.51million in 2009.

Of note in the revenue column is an average of $383,700generated for the city by sales tax from businesses in the proposedannexation area. That revenue currently goes to the state.

For the enlarged city, including current boundaries plus theannexed areas, revenue is projected at $8.83 million during thefirst year. Revenue is anticipated to rise to $10.37 million overfive years.

With first year expenses of $9.04 million, the city is forecastto run at a $208,931 deficit that year. However, by 2009,expenditures are slated to be $9.71 million, resulting in a$659,943 surplus.

On the other hand, without annexation, the analysis shows thecity running at an average $154,000 annual deficit for the nextfour years. The plan projects an $85,100 surplus in 2009.

Slaughter said continuing without annexation would not mean thecity is going in the hole financially, but it would mean increasedusage of carryover funds from year to year. He said that would notresult in the city’s going bankrupt.

“Theoretically, is that a possibility, yes, but in reality isthat going to happen, no,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter said cities follow trends, with periods of running ata deficit and at other times a surplus. He said it is common to seefluctuations.

“Cities are not supposed to build up a huge surplus,” Slaughtersaid.

Veteran annexation attorney Jerry Mills and City Attorney JoeFernald will be presenting the city’s case at trial.

Fernald said a ruling on the annexation request could comewithin 45 days after the trial’s conclusion. If approved, objectorswould then have 30 days to decide whether to appeal, the attorneysaid.