Home, business owners wary of Columbus annexation plan

December 3, 2010 10:36:00 AM

Jason Browne - jbrowne@cdispatch.com

 

Barring further studies, little is known regarding how the latest annexation proposal may affect individual homes and businesses in four select areas of Lowndes County. 

 

Chris Watson, the city''s annexation consultant, says his firm would need "a little time" to calculate the estimated increase in taxes to homeowners and businesses in the annexed areas. He awaits the Columbus City Council''s Tuesday decision whether or not to authorize his firm to begin more in-depth studies at cost to the city. 

 

Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen has yet to speak with Watson about the increases taxpayers will face, but isn''t expecting any great influx in tax dollars from homeowners.  

 

The proposed plan identifies four small areas of the county, composed of 39 businesses and 58 housing units, for annexation. Annexing all four areas would add an assessed valuation to the city of more than $2 million and produce an estimated $150,000 in sales tax annually. 

 

But some residents on the bubble for annexation don''t care about the city''s valuation. 

 

"I''d just as soon not be annexed. The city has a long history of annexing areas and not giving them the services for decades," said B.E. McMillen, a 30-year resident of Woodland Heights Drive. "What would I actually get besides high taxes for being annexed?" 

 

Douglas Croke, McMillen''s neighbor on Woodland Heights Drive, agrees with McMillen''s assertion property taxes will increase, but also expects higher utility bills. He says the trade-off for city police and fire service is irrelevant because the sheriff''s department and volunteer fire departments have always provided adequate service, despite the neighborhood''s inaccessibility from county roads. 

 

Woodland Heights Drive, located north of Columbus off of Spivey Road, begins in city limits and terminates in the county. During a meeting Wednesday with the mayor and city council, Watson cited the accessibility issue as the chief reason to incorporate the hilly, upscale neighborhood. 

 

McMillen has actively opposed past attempts to annex the area. If the city eventually chooses to annex Woodland Heights, Croke said neighbors would need to discuss the option of a formal objection. 

 

Business owners are voicing similar concerns, claiming tax increases would create a burden. 

 

"The first thing that comes to mind (concerning annexation) is higher taxes, which would probably be very expensive for our business," said Rita Boykin, wife of Eddie''s Service Center owner Eddie Boykin.  

 

She added adhering to city building and property codes may be another expensive inconvenience. And she, too, claims the sheriff''s department has "done a good job as far as being there when we need them." 

 

Eddie''s Service Center is located on Highway 50 in one of two areas adjacent to Lehmberg Road proposed for annexation. Both areas are predominantly populated by businesses at either end of the street. The north end includes sections of Highway 50, including two car dealerships. The south end includes a small area along Highway 182. 

 

Stan Riddle, owner of Stan''s Outdoors and Pawn on Lehmberg, isn''t happy about the annexation talk but has "too many fish to fry" to consider opposing the plan. 

 

"I''ve got too much else on my mind. They (the city) are going to do what they''re going to do," said Riddle, who has been on Lehmberg for 10 years. 

 

Watson said concern over higher taxes "is typically the case in any annexation." 

 

He says annexed residents may see some of their county taxes eliminated as they take on city taxes. Additionally, he says they''ll benefit from a "higher-concentration police force, planning and zoning building codes enforced by the city and the responses received from a full-time, paid fire department."