Judge denies majority of Petal’s annexation requests

By HASKEL BURNS,

Over the past several weeks, Mayor Hal Marx and the Petal Board of Aldermen have been waiting to find out whether the city would be allowed to annex five areas east of the Leaf River, including a large portion extending north up U.S. 11 and another area along Mississippi 42 stretching east to the Perry County border.

In the end, Petal officials didn’t get much of what they asked for, as specially-appointed Judge Robert Lancaster of Columbus last week denied all of the city’s requests except for about four homes along Country Park Drive and a house at the north end of Russett Lane that was not included in previous annexation efforts. The city also gained a small bit of residential property from some homes that were partially in the city limits and partially in Forrest County.

“Of course, we disagree with it,” Marx said. “We feel like we put on a really good case and showed why the city should be able to grow in those directions.”

Marx said the judge’s decision was based in large part on the U.S. 11 area, which is home to several gas plants such as Gulf South Pipeline Company. 

“The judge ruled that he did not believe we could offer the gas plants sufficient service to justify the added taxes that they pay to the city,” Marx said. “Our argument is that we’ve already been providing a lot of services to them, in the form of fire protection and police response when there’s an emergency situation out there.

“Currently, we don’t get any tax money to help support those services, but the judge ruled the other way.”

Marx said once Lancaster ruled against annexation in that area, he denied expansion into most of the other areas because he felt the majority of the money the city would use to provide services to new areas would come from the gas plants.

“So since he wasn’t giving us (the U.S. 11 area), he did not think that we would be able to financially support the other areas we were requesting,” Marx said. “We disagreed with that too, because we showed through our testimony that we did not really need a lot of additional personnel or equipment to provide services to those areas.

“But that’s what a judge is for – he makes his decision, and it’s up to him. So it is what it is.”

The city also had previously been denied an annexation attempt in the Glendale area, west of the Leaf River. If the most recent annexation attempt had been successful, the city would have taken in approximately 138 residences.

Given Lancaster’s decision, Marx said he doesn’t think another annexation attempt will be made in the foreseeable future, although he firmly believes in the city’s need to grow.

“The judge has already ruled that we cannot grow toward (Interstate) 59, and now he’s ruled basically that we cannot grow up Highway 11 or down Highway 42,” Marx said. “Well, those are the only three directions the city can grow along the highway, and I do believe that’s totally unfair to the city of Petal – he’s basically saying that the city can’t grow.

“I think that certainly a future city administration will need to try that again under different circumstances, and I do believe that most of those areas will eventually be inside the city limits; it’s just a matter of when. But it won’t be any time soon – it won’t be anything that I will attempt to do. By the time I’m out of office, maybe the next mayor or aldermen can try that, but I think at this time we’ll just concentrate on helping our city grow in the current city limits and attract new businesses here.”