Several dates considered to reconvene annexation trial

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Brookhaven’s annexation trial has been recessed indefinitelyafter testimony was unable to be completed Tuesday in LincolnCounty Chancery Court.

Special Chancellor John Ross ordered the recess Tuesdayafternoon while urban planner Kathy Garner, who has been workingwith annexation objectors, was being cross-examined by the city’sattorney, Jerry Mills. Including a day of touring the proposedannexation area, Tuesday was the 12th day of the trial that beganNov. 5.

Ross and attorneys said they had hoped to be able to completethe trial yesterday. However, the judge said he did not want anyoneto feel rushed and decided to call the recess.

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“I want everyone to have a fair chance,” Ross said.

Attorney Jerry Evans, who is representing several individualobjectors, said the quantity and volume of evidence yet to bepresented kept the trial from reaching its conclusion. Attorneyscheduling conflicts prevented testimony from being heardWednesday.

“It was impossible to complete it today or tomorrow,” Evans saidTuesday.

Ross, attorneys, the court reporter and chancery court personnelwere working on finding a time when the trial can resume. Withattorney and courtroom use scheduling conflicts in December,parties were considering several possible dates in January orFebruary.

“I’m available to come back any time you all pick,” said Ross,of Corinth.

Attorneys expect one or two days of additional testimony.Following conclusion of Garner’s testimony and the objectors’ case,the city may call rebuttal witnesses.

In the trial, the city is asking to annex more than 16 squaremiles of territory, but more than 200 objectors are challenging thecity’s ability to meet expansion-related obligations. In terms ofpopulation, the annexation would increase the city from the current9,861 to over 13,000.

While questioning Garner Tuesday, Mills sought agreement withthe planner regarding the 12 indicia of reasonableness that thecity must prove in order to be allowed to annex. Garner earlierquestioned the reasonableness of the annexation, and Mills tried todisprove her comments through his questions.

Through taxation and raising service rates, Garner agreed thecity has financial ability to pay for the annexation. Also, Garneracknowledged that minority voting strength would not be”significantly impacted” by the annexation plans.

Garner stood by her comments that Brookhaven’s proposedannexation is one of the largest she has seen. Mills, though, citedvarious larger annexations in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Biloxi andVicksburg.

“It is one of the largest in the state,” Garner said of theBrookhaven plan.

Mills and Garner spent a good portion of the cross-examinationdiscussing land use and availability inside the current citylimits. The discussion was related to the Need for Expansionindicia.

On direct examination, Garner suggested that the 914 acres ofunconstrained land currently in the city could be sufficient for 33years. Based on the 27 building permits issued in the last year,Garner said that allowed for one acre per residentialdevelopment.

“I felt that assuming one acre per development was more thanfair,” Garner said.

However, Mills cited land absorption data showing that 1,626acres of land had been put into use since 1980.

A continued 70-acres per year absorption rate, he indicated,would reduce the available land inventory to 13 years instead of 33years. Also, that would have development on 100 percent of the landin the city.

The city’s current “build-out” rate is around 79 percent. Garnersaid cities that have rates below 70 percent are considered in goodshape.

Path of growth considerations also prompted an extendeddiscussion between the attorney and the witness.

Garner agreed that spill over urbanization in areas such as theUrban subdivision, the Wal-Mart Distribution Center and theTanglewood subdivision were within the city’s path of growth.However, she said Highway 84 was “significantly removed” from whatshe considered the city, despite what Mills called “substantialdevelopment” along the road.

“It’s very difficult to see it in the path of growth,” Garnersaid.

Garner said she was unable to quantity the extent of potentialhealth hazards in the proposed annexation area. Existence ofpotential health hazards is another of the 12 annexationindicia.

“I cannot say if the entire annexation area is fraught withsewer problems,” Garner said.

Earlier testimony from city witnesses, including a state healthdepartment inspector, suggested potential health hazards at 75percent of the developments in the annexation area. The healthdepartment inspector indicated that was not unusual for ruralareas.

The trial was recessed while Mills was questioning Garner aboutthe need for zoning in the annexation area. Pointing tourbanization, Mills brought out that 40 percent of Lincoln County’spopulation live in the city or annexation area, yet that spaceaccounts for only 3 percent of the county’s land area.