A dedicated group of Bolton residents asked Lakeland to annex their 35 square-mile community in Shelby County, and the city has agreed to conduct a study on their proposal.
Chris Price, speaking for the pro-annexation group, presented the petition at the board’s Feb. 18 meeting. The area contains roughly 1,026 single-family homes, he said, estimating that about 4,500 people will be impacted.
At a special-called meeting on Feb. 25, the Lakeland Board of Commissioners passed a resolution 4-1 to conduct the study, with Commissioner Blan “Randy” Nicholson dissenting, saying the time was not yet right to address this topic. About 200 citizens packed the room to hear the discussions and comment on the annexation.
Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker said the study will explore whether the city can afford the annexation and whether it benefits the Bolton residents and the city of Lakeland. If the results are favorable, the board can decide to let citizen vote in a referendum. Bolton area residents would get to choose their fate, Bunker said. Lakeland citizens are also eligible to vote in a referendum if the board so chooses.
Price believes the majority of Bolton residents would “without a doubt” overwhelmingly support annexation by Lakeland. He acknowledged that there are some opponents, and he believes they’re a small, active and vocal group.
Mayor Bunker said he endorses the process that Price and other annexation supporters are following by initiating the process themselves. “I’ve never been one that’s a proponent of annexation through ordinance.”
He explained that, in the past, “annexation through ordinance” meant that government could annex an area simply by having three readings of an ordinance to annex, whether the annexed residents do or do not approve.
“That process has a moratorium placed on it by the state. It may be made permanent in this legislative session – I hope it is,” Bunker said. “I don’t support any legislative bodies independently forcing you into their city.”
In this case, the process is being initiated by some area residents, he said, and all Lakeland is saying now is that it’s interested enough to study the issue. If the study is favorable, a vote will let citizens determine what happens next.
“There’s nothing more American than you getting a choice as to whether you want that to happen,” Bunker said. “And the majority rules.”
He also said annexation supporters have told him it’s a matter of when, not if, Bolton will be annexed. They reported having talks with Arlington and Bartlett and getting indications that forced annexation will be inevitable when Public Act 1101 expires in 2018.
“At that point, if annexation by ordinance is allowed, there is a possibility you may not get a choice. So the beauty of this opportunity is that the people get to choose. You get to choose your destiny – whether or not you want to be annexed, and who you want to be annexed by.”
He also added, “If you don’t want to be annexed, that’s great. That’s fine with me. If you want to be annexed, we would love to have you.”
A large contingent of annexation opponents attended the Feb. 18 and Feb. 25 meetings. Ron Williams of Deadfall Road, in unincorporated Shelby County, said in a written statement, “A small group of Bolton residents have petitioned Lakeland to annex our entire rural area, believing it will preserve property values, save the schools and gain representation. Opponents believe it’s entirely premature, will be costly to Lakeland, destroy our rural values and add taxes for us with few benefits.”
He asked the board for the feasibility study to include detailed financial information. The following are just a few of his written or oral statements:
- Pending legislation may remove the option for nearby cities to annex by ordinance (“forced annexation”). In the meantime, he sees no need for rushing.
- The expiration of Public Act 1101 is not guaranteed; it could be extended or re-enacted.
- There is no guarantee home values will improve with annexation.
- Property taxes will immediately increase by $0.85 per $100 assessed value. By his calculations, this would add another $425 to the average $200,000 home’s Shelby County taxes.
- Municipal and utility fees will be added or increased (storm water, waste pickup, fire protection, and rodent/mosquito control).
- Lakeland would be taking on extra costs during a time when it’s already working to stand up a school district. Sewers, road maintenance, and a new fire station for the Bolton area would be costly. Williams asked if Lakeland’s residents are willing to subsidize these costs for Bolton.
- Lakeland’s sales tax rate is at the maximum allowed, leaving property tax as the only source of additional revenue.
- The loss of rural designation is undesireable. Bolton residents would have to abide by Lakeland standards for lawn and property maintenance, junk and auto storage, ordinances about trees and livestock, and its ban on firearm discharge.
- The affect on schools would be complicated, including no information yet on whether Shelby County Schools would surrender Bolton High School and Barret’s Chapel Elementary School buildings to Lakeland, whether Lakeland then would have to fund teacher retirement benefits, and whether Barret’s Chapel Elementary School will be closed (for its age, maintenance costs, and other issues).
Angela Norris of Snoal Cove, Millington (in the Bolton area), said her children attend Bolton schools and she is in favor of the annexation because it gives her a choice.
“I would rather have a say-so being annexed into the Lakeland area now versus not having a say-so when the Public Act 1101 becomes up in 2018,” she said. “I don’t look at it just for the school system. I look at it as the property values for our home, the areas our children grow up in.”
She urged the public and the board to keep an open mind as the study is being conducted.
Bish Thomas, a Cordova resident, owns property in Bolton and said that he and plenty of people oppose the annexation. He asked if the city is ready to provide city services, such as sewer and water, within the time frame required by statute. “You’ve got enough on your plate already with the school without trying to put in sewer and water and all out in this area.”
Snowden “Butch” Carruthers of the Bolton area also said he supports the annexation movement because he likes having a choice. “I’m willing to eat out a few less times each month and drive a car maybe a year longer to have a future in determining what happens to me and my family in the future.”
John Smith, pastor of Rosemark Church of God in Christ (COGIC), said he was speaking out against all parts of the process — the proposed study, referendum and annexation — on behalf of his church members in the Rosemark, Bolton and Brunswick areas. Many are retirees, single parents, or whole families who have invested in area property and who want a rural life.
“They enjoy the provisions that Shelby County services currently provide, and the freedom and liberties they enjoy as rural property owners,” Smith said. “They do not want to be subject to the possibilities of this proposed annexation, which includes taxation of property, increased cost as it relates to needed services, and possibly inherited city debt.”
Nancy Graham of the Bolton area said she favors the feasibility study. “I want my right to cast a vote. This is America and I don’t think that should be shut down. We are a great community. I think we would be an asset to Lakeland. I believe Lakeland would be a great asset to us. I have been looking at what the new regime has been doing with your monies, and I think it’s a great thing.”
Chris Price summed up the annexation supporters’ views, saying, “One of the great things about our country is voting. And I believe that we deserve a chance to become part of this area. We do have great people, we’ve got great kids and great community. And there’s a big support push for this. And we’d like to know what Lakeland has to offer for our community. We appreciate you looking at this, and God bless America and the great city of Lakeland.”
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Bartlett Express editor. Contact her at email@example.com or (901) 433-9138.