Tuesday is an important day for opponents of the City of Olive Branch’s proposal to add about 50 square miles and 5,000 new homes in the Lewisburg and Center Hill areas into its city limits.
A bill authored by District 7 state Rep. Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven) that would require a vote on any annexation attempt could die unless it is allowed to move out of committee by the end of the day. It is listed as House Bill 1051 on the calendar at the State Capitol and is being addressed in the Apportionment and Elections Committee.
However, an even more important day is still ahead in the issue of annexing the area to the south and east of Olive Branch. The areas include the Pleasant Hill, Bridgetown, Lewisburg and Cedar View communities to the south and the Center Hill community to the east.
That date is Wednesday, April 17, at 9 a.m. in DeSoto County Chancery Court in Hernando, when a judge will consider arguments for and against the annexation.
Residents crowded into New Prospect Baptist Church in Lewisburg Saturday morning where organizers of the group fighting the annexation called the Unincorporated Community of DeSoto County provided information on their progress and answered questions those in attendance had about the issue.
President Joe Masson, spokesman Mark Dickey and Jamie Ross updated an estimated 375 people about what the group has been doing to fight the annexation since it was first announced by the Olive Branch Board of Aldermen last November.
The opponents have been busy on a campaign to seek backing from affected homeowners’ associations and subdivisions that face becoming residents of Olive Branch if the annexation is approved.
Ross said the organization is close to hiring a “highly recommended” attorney and has cash in hand and pledges that would cover the attorney’s retainer fee of $10,000.
They presented a timeline also showed that DeSoto County supervisors, at its first January meeting, voted to oppose the annexation and a filing to that effect by the county has been filed.
Hopkins filed House Bill 1051 on Jan. 15 in Jackson, a bill he said was written to allow residents to have a voice on the issue.
“We are your last line of defense against an overreaching government and we want to be your voice in Jackson,” Hopkins told the residents. “That’s the kind of Mississippi I want to fight for.”
Hopkins added the bill as currently worded would allow both city residents and those affected by annexation to be able to vote on an issue but, “If we can get the chair to bring it up we are ready to amend it and make it where just you vote,” he explained.
Hopkins and state Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch), who represents some of the affected area, asked residents to contact the Capitol and urge that the bill be passed out of committee.
“Politicians I have discovered only move by pressure,” Criswell said. “They move to where there is less pressure. You’ve got to put pressure on them on one side to get this out.”
Hopkins admitted after the meeting he was not sure if committee chairman Bill Denny (R-Jackson) would let the bill out of committee, adding “we’re working on it.”
Dickey said after the meeting organizers were pleased with the turnout, but added that their work to protest the annexation move would not be easy.
“We’re fighting an uphill battle but we’re doing it for our rights and to demand that we are heard and that we get an opportunity to be heard before these decisions are made,” Dickey said. “We don’t want another city nearby to come in and decide what our future is.”
Dickey said opponents feel they would not get anything additional from Olive Branch that they don’t already receive and they want to have a say on the issue.
“The simple answer is that it is just about money for them (Olive Branch),” Dickey said. “I want to be allowed to get in the ring and to fight. Right now, I’m left on the outside looking in while other people are making decisions for my well being, my home and my family.”
Worst case scenario, Dickey said the effort wouldn’t die. They would continue to work with legislators to bring up more legislation “and we would absolutely appeal” any annexation decision against them.
Beyond today’s committee deadline, the Unincorporated Community of DeSoto County is now setting its sights on what will be their day in DeSoto County Chancery Court on April 17.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.