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April 26, 2014 9:59:30 PM
It's been nearly three years since the city of Columbus filed a plan to annex four areas of the county.
Since that happened in July 2011, the matter has been mired in a lengthy legal process. It will be September 22 when the city and any objectors to annexation meet in Lowndes County Chancery Court. A judge will ultimately decide.
Less than five months away from that day, the status of the case is still in the discovery process, or the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence and documents from the opposing party.
Urban planning company Bridge & Watson of Oxford assisted the city with determining which areas to annex. The areas they settled on bringing into the city limits include an area from the intersection of Hobbes Sheffield Road and Lehmberg Road to just past Dutch Lane. The plan also brings in the Riverwalk, as well as a single-family subdivision near Jolly Road near Highway 45 North.
Lowndes County tax assessor Greg Andrews said a $2 million business in the county brought inside the city would have to pay $44,508 in property taxes a year. That same business is paying $25,521 right now. A resident who has a parcel worth $100,000 in the county who is not covered by homestead exemption would pay $2,225 a year if brought into the city, instead of the $1,276 paid now.
The annexation would add about 1,462 residents, 638 homes and 44 businesses to the city of Columbus, according to Andrews. That's about 615 parcels with a total value of $64.4 million.
Chris Watson, who represented the firm and worked with the city, will be on hand during the trial date to show the map if he's called to the witness stand. He said the three-year gap between filing the plan and the first significant court date was not unusual.
"It's moving along like most annexations move along, and that's very slowly," Watson said. "What you're seeing with the lack of movement is the discovery process. The courts generally allow a substantial amount of time for any objectors to look at whatever documents and discover any information that the annexing city may have."
He said in his experience, courts prefer to find consecutive days in which they can hear annexation cases.
"To accomplish that, you have to go far out in time to find that amount of clear time on the court schedule," Watson said.
The common argument of annexation from the city standpoint is doing so brings more property and sales tax money to the city coffers and extends infrastructural and city services.
The argument from someone like Wayne Ellis' standpoint is that he can't afford to pay more taxes to operate his business, Ellis Woodworks, if it's brought inside the city limits. He said he wouldn't see any benefit in return for forking over more cash each year.
"I'd probably have to shut the door," Ellis said. "If it gets to a point where I have to spend a chunk of money and I don't have it to spend, I'll shut it down. I'd have to go somewhere else and downsize."
Ellis added that he'd have more guidelines and mandates to operate under as a business inside city limits.
"I can relocate, it's just a matter of whether I want to locate or what I want to do," Ellis said. "I'll make that decision when they decide what they're going to do."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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