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City studying annexation of land to south, east


Neal Wagner



The Columbus Light and Water Department during the next few months will be attempting to determine the cost of annexing more than 1,000 homes and buildings south and east of the city limits. 


The announcement came during a Thursday afternoon CL&W board of directors meeting, during which board members agreed to fund a $7,000 study to determine the cost of extending city utility lines into potential annexation areas. 


The study, which will be completed by the Neel-Schaffer engineering firm, will cover about a mile east of Yorkville Road roughly between William Roberts Road and Hobbs-Sheffield Road. Engineers also will study an area north and south of South Pickensville Road between Highway 69 South and Frisco Road and an area near the intersection of South Pickensville Road and West Yorkville Road. 


"These areas are in our jurisdictional area. We are actually serving a lot of these areas with water, but a lot of them are not on city sewer," said CL&W General Manager Todd Gale. "So we would have to run sewer lines to those areas if they were annexed into the city." 


The study will aid CL&W and city officials in determining the approximate cost-to-benefit study to both entities, said Gale and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith.  


Everyone outside Columbus'' corporate limits who uses city water and sewer pays one-and-a-half times the rate charged inside the city. Because annexation would reduce the amount of utility fees paid to CL&W, utility officials will use the study to determine the annexation''s effect on the company''s revenue. 


"The study will let you see what bringing these people into the city will do to your bottom line," Gale told the board. "(Neel-Schaffer) will come back with an estimated payback on any investment you make in those areas." 


After the utility cost analysis studies are completed, Columbus government officials will use the results to help construct a comprehensive annexation plan for the city, Smith explained. 


"Annexation is something we discussed before the (Columbus City Council) elections. But the outgoing council decided to hold the issue until after the election period," Smith said. "(Lowndes County Tax Collector and Assessor) Greg Andrews, Todd Gale, city COO David Armstrong and I recently rode around the city to identify areas we would like to annex. 


"We want to take in as much as we can, but with the least amount of resentment possible," Smith added. "It only takes a few people to file complaints against the annexation to push the process back another five years." 


Annexing the high-population areas outside the city is important, Smith said, to bring big box retailers to the area. However, Columbus planners must be careful to monitor the city''s cost-to-benefit ratio when bringing neighborhoods into the city. 


"A lot of the retail development won''t even consider you if you don''t have a population of at least 30,000," Smith said. "And we''ve got to determine the ratio of expenditures to the additional tax base the city brings in.  


"You''ve got to provide services to the areas you annex, and you have to consider if the additional expense is worth the expanded tax base," Smith added. "Me and the council are going to sit down sometime maybe next week and discuss our annexation plans and other things as well." 


The U.S. Census Bureau''s 2008 population estimate, released earlier this month, places the city''s population at 23,798. 


In addition to areas east and south of Columbus, city officials also are planning to consider annexing areas east and west of Highway 45 North just above the city''s current northern boundaries near Woodland Heights Drive. 


However, a Neel-Schaffer study completed more than a year ago determined the cost-to-benefit ratio of annexing many high-population areas north of Columbus would be too expensive for the city, Smith said.  


"That study looked at some of the areas around Spivey Road and around that area," Smith said. "At that time, we got involved with the East Lowndes Water Association, and we determined it would be too expensive to annex." 


Although city officials are rushing to annex thousands of residents into the city''s boundaries, some eastern Lowndes County dwellers have mixed feelings on the issue. 


"I can''t speak for the owners out here, but I personally would have to vote no on annexation out here," said Heather Barnett, property manager of The Colony apartment complex near the intersection of Highway 182 and Lehmberg Road. 


"A lot of the people live here because their kids are in the New Hope school district," Barnett added. "We are on city water and sewer, but we are on 4-County electricity. I think the city''s electricity rates are a little bit higher than 4-County." 


North of The Colony, Aundrae Sanders, a resident of 121 Deerfield Drive a few hundred yards east of the city limit, said he would welcome the annexation. 


"I''ll be happy about it if they do decide to annex us into the city," Sanders said Thursday afternoon. "I work for the city street department, so I''ve been hearing about the annexation for a long time. 


"It would bring our utility bills down," Sanders laughed. "I would love to be in the city."




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 7/17/2009 12:58:00 PM:

I'll say it again, Robert Smith said, when running to win election as mayor, in the special city election to replace leaving mayor J. Rupp, he opposed residential annexation and supported land annexation for industrial development.
Now that he won the special election and the latest city election, Robert Smith is changing his tune. That's not nice, Robert.
Is Mr. Sanders currently paying city school taxes? Is he paying city property taxes? Surely, the $25 increase figure is not going to be used in the annexation argument again.
So, the city mayor and council want to annex six thousand people into a city many of them chose not to live in, but Robert wants to do it "with the least amount of resentment possible"?
This is a major change to the voting makeup of ward three, and he hopes there are no problems or complaints? If the shoe were on the other foot, and ward one or five were being threatened with a total remake in voting demographics, Robert would be at the head of the line at the complaint window. Apparently he either has already forgotten the lawsuits that resulted from the last city annexation, or he is hoping the public has.
This is not the way to bring people into the city. It is a horrible plan and people are not likely to forget it this time around, especially after the real tax bills start to come in. Their utility bills will be forgotten in no time flat.


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