August 7, 2019 11:16:52 AM
Mayor Lynn Spruill cast the deciding vote Tuesday night to move forward with annexing a portion of Oktibbeha County into the city limits.
The board of aldermen split 3-3 on the issue of taking in approximately 27.9 square miles from areas of Oktibbeha County east of the city, along the Highway 82 and Highway 182 corridors out to Clayton Village and in the University Hills area. That forced Spruill to break the tie.
The original annexation plan aimed to build the city's population to at least 30,000, which would have needed an increase of more than 5,000 residents to achieve. However, Mississippi State University declined to be part of the annexation plan and the city progressively winnowed down the targeted area over several iterations.
"I think we've done a very good job of looking all around the city as to what would be appropriate," Spruill said. "I believe that we have taken very judicious steps and have backed away from areas that didn't make sense. ... One of the things that have moved us to where we are now is these are the areas of growth."
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4's Jason Walker and Ward 5's Hamp Beatty favored the annexation plan, while Ben Carver of Ward 1, Roy A. Perkins of Ward 6 and Henry Vaughn of Ward 7 opposed. Ward 3 Alderman David Little did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
The ordinance dictates that 878 voting residents living in the area become part of Starkville and pay for the city services they will receive, including emergency medical services, police protection and road maintenance.
The ordinance will take effect 10 days after it is approved by a judge of Oktibbeha County's Chancery Court. Board Attorney Chris Latimer said a petition will be prepared by the end of the month.
Before the vote, Perkins said he thinks the plan is unfair to the county residents opposing it, as well as too expensive for the city to take on.
Perkins brought up Bar-B-Q Road, which hosts about seven residences and would be incorporated into the city under the ordinance, and asked city engineer Edward Kemp about the approximate cost of addressing the damage it displays.
Kemp's responses were expensive, totaling roughly $220,000 for repairs, reconstruction and incorporation into the city's street improvement program.
Starkville Utilities Director Terry Kemp noted it would cost up to $40,000 to tie in sewer service to the area.
Perkins said areas like that need to be left out of the plan, because the city "just cannot afford it."
"It's not cost-effective," Perkins said.
He ventured to say an ordinance that forces people into the city is "un-American."
"If this measure passes tonight, it is nothing but a forced governmental requirement, governmental mandate to drag or force or bring these areas into the city against their will," Perkins said.
In a similar vein, Carver said the big-picture issue here is "good governance" and taking the "pulse of the community" in decision making. He said he has clearly seen that county residents don't want to be annexed in the months leading up to Tuesday's vote.
He said he would be angry, too, if he were in the county residents' position.
"The day that you get elected is not the last day you listen to your constituents," Carver said.
Both Spruill and Beatty expressed their support for the annexation. They said businesses and residents living and operating adjacent to city limits benefit from the city's services already, including fire protection.
"The city of Starkville basically protects your homes and businesses without being adequately compensated," Beatty said. "Please know that you do benefit from living or owning a business next to the city of Starkville even if you don't realize it or want to admit it."
He noted that city residents are also Oktibbeha County residents, who pay taxes to that entity.
For residents, the only significant change in their lives will be garbage collection, Spruill said.
"I think we bring far more than you feel you'll be deprived of," Spruill told a crowd of residents who attended the meeting.
In response to aldermen suggesting a similar annexation in 1998 be sorted out and services be provided before more area is incorporated, Spruill said those annexed in 1998 have not been paying taxes for services they haven't received.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker discussed the annexation plan as an opportunity for growth that is probably inevitable. He said the issues newly incorporated residents will face in the short-term are worth the tradeoff for strides in the city's long-term trajectory.
"My decision is that I do believe that having control over those entrances and primary highways into the city of Starkville is in the long-term best interest of the city," Walker said.
'We don't like this'
Residents voiced concerns at the meeting related to taxes and quality of life.
Sally Laughlin, who lives along Lakewood Drive, said she sees little benefit to herself and the city. She said she doesn't want to pay higher taxes and wants to keep her county garbage collectors.
"My garbage men row my can back into my carport," Laughlin said. "Now I'm not disabled, but I do appreciate that service that they have rendered to me."
She also said the plans of the proposition could be considered gerrymandering. According to previous Dispatch reporting, the annexed area adds 646 white residents of voting age and 232 black residents of voting age, increasing the overall disparity of white-to-black residents of voting age in the city by 414 potential white voters to 6,909.
Lydia Allison said she and her husband moved to their neighborhood near Lakewood Drive 30 years ago. She said she and her neighbors are satisfied with the way things are and that the annexation is "unnecessary."
"Y'all know that we don't want this," Allison said. "Please don't impose the city's will on our neighborhood."
Sistrunk said she's done her homework on annexation, and residents' concerns are "nothing unique." They're consistent with those of people who have opposed annexation in other municipalities, she said.
"These are very typical during an annexation process," she said. "We have spent a lot of time on this, and it's time to put it behind us."
Resident Dwight Prisock simply pleaded with board members.
"Please don't do this," he said. "We're in the county for a reason. We don't like this."
After the death of his daughter earlier this summer, it is unclear when Little will return to board meetings. Spruill said she is respecting his need for time to grieve, and will allow him as much time as he needs.
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