County seeking answers on city annexation

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lincoln County supervisors said Monday they lacked anyindication of how they should proceed in their responsibilities tohelp with the city’s annexation of an estimated 3,000 countyresidents and 14.4 square miles of land.

Supervisors had questions – but no answers – to practicalconcerns on garbage pickup, road work and bridge replacements, aswell as technical matters like tax changes.

The board hopes to get some answers Wednesday in a joint meetingof the county and city boards.

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“We’re just kind of an innocent bystander on this,” saidChancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop. “There’s going to be some changes,obviously.”

What those changes may be, however, is unknown.

“They should have come and talked to us about this when ithappened,” said District One Supervisor the Rev. Jerry Wilson.

District Three Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson agreed.

“We need to know something within a few days,” he said.

Supervisors conceded, however, that the suddenness in which thecity learned of the annexation’s approval was at least partly toblame for the confusion.

The Mississippi Supreme Court approved the city’s annexationrequest April 5, approximately six months before aldermen hadanticipated. City officials have been discussing what needs to bedone regarding their annexation-related obligations.

Mayor Bob Massengill said the annexation will be official May 6and the city will need to begin providing services to the annexedareas soon afterwards. A move by objectors to ask for a rehearingon annexation could prevent the expansion from taking effectthen.

Garbage pickup is one area with a lot of potential problems,said County Administrator David Fields.

Some residents in the annexation area have paid for a fullyear’s service, he said. They will either need to be reimbursed forthe months remaining after the city takes over billing for theservice or make other arrangements.

Waste Management handles garbage collection for both the cityand the county, but city residents receive twice-weekly pickupwhile county residents have once-a-week service.

It may be easiest, Fields said, if the county continues to pickup the garbage until September, when the service is due forrenewal. However, because the city picks up twice weekly residentsmay want service through the city as soon as possible.

District Five Supervisor Gary Walker also expressed a concernabout a bridge replacement project on Field Lark Lane. The bridgewas scheduled for replacement, but falls within the annexationzone.

“We can still do it, but I think the city has to buy the rightsof way now,” he said, adding the annexation could possibly delaythe project.

Lincoln County Tax Collector Nancy Jordan informed the boardMonday that she is facing several technical problems with theannexation that needed to be resolved before she couldcontinue.

Massengill has asked her to begin collecting the city taxes oncar tags beginning in May.

However, Jordan said it’s a little more complicated than simplycharging more for the tags. A taxing district must be created sothat the correct amount for the tag is charged and the moneydistributed properly, she said.

“It’s not going to be easy. They also want the land rollschanged by the beginning of July, which gives me all of two monthsto get that changed over. But we will do that,” Jordan said.

In addition, Jordan said her office is in the process ofcreating a new tax district to account for several square miles ofDistrict Two recently annexed by Wesson.

The Wesson annexation, coupled with the Brookhaven annexation,prompted District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts to comment that “theycut into District Two bad. I didn’t know anything about (the Wessonannexation). They didn’t notify anyone, they just did it.”

However, County Attorney Bob Allen said the annexation wasposted in the legal notices as required by law.

Coordination between the city and county fire departments,however, was good, said Lincoln County Fire Coordinator CliffordGaley.

“I’m working with the city on the annexation because thevolunteers will have to back up the city at least initially,” hesaid.

Galey said 911 dispatchers will notify both the city andappropriate volunteer fire department of a blaze in the annexationzone during the transition.

Residents in the zone, however, will eventually lose theservices of the volunteer department’s first responders, hesaid.

“We do not respond within the existing city limits, so I don’tthink we’ll be responding to the annexation area,” Galey said.

Supervisors will also have to address funding for thedepartments, he said. The volunteer departments are funded throughstate insurance fire rebate monies and a slight millage on countyproperty taxes.

The loss of so many households will give some departments aheavy economic hit, Galey said. Many of the new pumpers were fundedon loans being paid back through the fire rebate funds, so areduction in those funds could leave them short, he said.