Mandate starts countdownt to annexation

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wednesday’s expedited ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Courtwill make Brookhaven’s annexation effective July 1 and will allowthe city to collect property taxes from new residents this year,officials said.

The rare expedited mandate makes the annexation of 14.4 squaremiles final. Annexed areas will begin receiving city police andfire protection on July 1.

“The whole point was that this has been delayed long enough. Wewere fortunate that (annexation counsel) Jerry Mills was able tofile the motion and have it granted,” said City Attorney JoeFernald of the court proceeding. “An expedited mandate is veryrare.”

Citizens Against Annexation spokeswoman Sandra Gerald said theexpedition did not surprise her, although it did sadden her.

“It brings me back to the first time we went to the board and wewere only given three minutes (to speak), so this move did notsurprise me,” said Gerald, referring to a board meeting time limitfor guest appearances. “The time factor has never been in ourfavor. Their expediting this mandate just exemplifies to me theirgreediness.”

Fernald said the expedited mandate takes pressure off the citytimeframe-wise. He said had it come any later, it might have putthe timing into the gray area where there would have had to bediscussion on when exactly property taxes could be assessed.

“The city can now just move forward with all deliberate speed,”he said. “Right now we’re getting money from the first of the yearto help defray the cost of the additional services.”

Gerald said the taxes are an issue for some of the opponents ofthe annexation, but it hasn’t really been an issue for her.

“From my own standpoint, taxes haven’t been my reason foropposing the annexation, though I would have liked to have seen usnot be taxed for the six months we weren’t in the city,” she said.”I’m glad I haven’t been in the city limits for the last six monthsbecause of the freedoms that we’ve enjoyed. It was the choice thatwas the issue, and the fact that we didn’t have any choice in theannexation.”

Both sides said they considered the time constraints on the taxas they pondered their legal maneuvers.

“We asked the courts to expedite the mandate and execute theorder so we could take the taxes from January 1, because had we notdone that we’d be waiting 18 months,” Fernald said. “That could bea burden on the city.”

Gerald said she didn’t want to hurt the city, but that shedidn’t understand how paying a full year’s taxes for six months ofservices made sense.

“Part of it was because I knew that for us it was an advantageif we could get past June 30 without a mandate. But I knew itwasn’t good for the city,” she said. “I didn’t want to do anythingto hurt the city, even though I didn’t feel like they have reallythought about our interests.”

Gerald said the annexation marks an ending to a way of life forsome of the residents of the area.

“I can only imagine the feelings of those that have inheritedtheir land from their fathers. It’s going to be a big change for meand I’ve been out here for only 20 years,” she said. “If it hadbeen my dad’s land or my grandfather’s land … I can’t imagine.It’s really sad.”

Gerald said the adjustment will be mentally and emotionally, aswell as legally and financially, difficult.

“It’s the change in the way of life that matters, because it’s amajor change, and it’s depressing,” she said. “The reality thisweek has really hit me, and maybe it’s partially the crash witheverything being over with – because you hit bottom, and that’swhere I am.”

Receipt of the mandate means the 10-day countdown begins forcity law enforcement and fire services, as the city will beofficially almost three times bigger on July 1.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson said his police force isready for the change.

“We’re prepared,” he said. “We’ll be ready for that date. If allthe officers have done what I’ve told them to and ridden theannexed areas, we’ll be more than ready.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said the sheriff’sdepartment is both ready and happy to assist the police departmentas they get used to the new areas.

“We’re here to assist in the transition any way we possiblycan,” said Rushing. “Anything we can do to help the citizens ofBrookhaven and Lincoln County and the Brookhaven Police Department,we’d be glad to do.”

Henderson said the police department is proud to coordinateefforts with sheriff’s department, and grateful for the help duringthe short time it might be needed.

“Sheriff Rushing has offered their full support and help, and weare glad to work with them,” said Henderson.

Gerald said the newness of the laws and ordinances may take timefor the citizens to get used to.

“The mayor was asking for cooperation from the county, but we’regoing to need cooperation from the city as well,” she said. “We asthe citizens of Brookhaven, it’s still our city, we love it, but Ido think the city needs to be a little lenient with the peoplewho’ve been annexed, because we’ve lost a lot. It will take timefor us to adjust as well.”

The police department is also willing to work with residents ofthe newly annexed areas on laws and ordinances that are new tothem.

“Our job now is to take care of the people we take in as well aswe take care of the people in the city currently,”Henderson said.”There will be a lot of adjustments to make, and we’re willing towork with them.”

One issue that has been mentioned as a potential sticking pointwith the new areas of the city is the burn ban. Residents of thecity are not allowed to burn trash unless they have a permit andhave contacted the fire department.

Fire Chief Bob Watts said at this point he’s not sure if thefire department needs to be present during the burn, but that’spart of what he will speak to Clifford Galey, county firecoordinator, about this week.

“We could always go check on them if they’re going to do it, andmaybe stand by if it’s needed,” he said. “But we’re not goinglooking for little fires. Usually how this works is that neighborscall and tell us about it and we go put it out.”

Meanwhile, the fire department is making ready to work in thelarger area as well and is anticipating a good transition with thearea volunteer fire departments, Watts said.

“We understand they’re volunteers, and they’re under noobligation to work in an area that’s no longer theirs,” Watts said.”As always, when we roll we’ll do everything we can to control asituation, and if we need backup, we’re proud to have them there assupport.”

Hog Chain Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Hart said hisdepartment looks forward to continuing the great relationshipthey’ve had in the past with BFD.

“I think we work well together, and usually the shoe is on theother foot, usually they’re coming to assist us,” he said. “So nowit will be where we’re coming to assist them.

But just like the day of the downtown fire, it showed how allthey have to do is say what they need,” Hart said. “We’re happy tooffer support to them like they have to us in the past.”