As the Mississippi state legislative session is in its final days, a deadline looms for supporters of a move to restrict the ability of municipal governments in DeSoto County to annex land into the city limits.
Friday is the deadline for the introduction of local and private bills that are not revenue bills.
One such bill facing the deadline is specific to DeSoto County and its communities.
Listed as House Bill 1739, the measure is specific to the county and would provide certain annexation procedure for any city within the county to annex a portion of the county.
DeSoto County’s seven state representatives are behind the bill, which was sent to the Local and Private Legislation House Committee. State Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) is the principal author of the bill that has state Reps. Dana Criswell (R-Olive Branch), Dan Eubanks (R-Walls), Jeff Hale (R-Nesbit), Bill Kinkade (R-Byhalia), Ashley Henley (R-Southaven), and Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven) as additional sponsors.
The bill is a last effort this session for residents, led by the group Fight4DeSoto, to legislatively limit DeSoto County communities in the annexation process.
Residents went up in arms when the city of Olive Branch voted last November to annex about 50 square miles into the city. Areas that are affected are Lewisburg, Pleasant Hill, Bridgetown, Center Hill, and Cedar View communities. If finalized, Olive Branch would grow by about 14,000 residents and add about 5,000 homes.
Olive Branch contends the city has spent millions into utilities over two decades to the areas and their ability to offer services has helped the areas become more attractive to growth.
Mayor Scott Phillips, when the board voted to move forward on annexation, stated, “This is something we’ve been working on for about 20 years and is about to come to fruition.”
The matter has a hearing date of April 17 in DeSoto County Chancery Court. While a judge may only hear the matter and set another date, it may be the first chance the opposition has to legally state their case.
Fight4DeSoto spokeswoman Jamie Ross said Monday the group is close to announcing who will provide them legal representation as the matter goes through the court system.
An earlier legislative effort led by Hopkins, titled House Bill 1051, died in committee back in February. It would have required a vote on any annexation effort by a city government.
An attempt to seek public support for the bill, as well as informing residents about the opposition effort to that point, was a focus of a town hall-type meeting held at New Prospect Baptist Church in Lewisburg last month by the annexation opponents, a meeting that packed the church sanctuary.
The current bill proposal would require a proper notice from a municipality about its plan to annex an area. Residents could stop an automatic annexation effort by petition, if signed by 20 percent, or 2,000 residents, whichever is less.
Cities that want to continue to push for annexation after the petition would need to provide for an election on the issue. If a vote is against annexation, then the city would have to file a case in Chancery Court and potentially be responsible for legal fees. After case filing, it goes to a judge for consideration.
“I think passing this bill is the right thing to do for DeSoto County residents,” Ross said Monday. “It gives us a voice that we’ve been asking for when it comes to annexation. Ultimately, it doesn’t change the way annexation happens. It still gives municipalities an opportunity to expand their borders and to do so in court. In the middle of them filing for annexation, it gives the citizens an opportunity to be heard.”
The members of the Local and Private Committee in the House include Foster, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Rep. Manley Barton (R-Moss Point) is the committee chairman and Lataisha Jackson (D-Como) is its vice-chair.
Ross urged residents to contact House committee members and also to follow up with contacts to DeSoto County’s state senators to seek support for the bill.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.