Petitioners resist Bolton annexation idea
About 40 Bolton residents who fiercely oppose annexation by Lakeland showed up en masse for the April 15 Lakeland city board meeting. Eight spokesmen told the board they don’t want the annexation requested by some of their neighbors. Mike Taube of Brunswick Road asked the board to cease the merger feasibility study currently underway and abandon any attempts to annex all or part of the Bolton area. He presented an anti-annexation petition from more than 500 residents. “We feel assured that any resulting annexation referendum will be overwhelmingly rejected by the voters,” Taube said. “Mr. mayor and commissioners, you listened to 52 petitioners to start this process. Please now listen to the over 500 who would like for you to stop it.” Barbara Williams of Brunswick said about northeast Shelby County, “We have a deep, deep love of our home, our land – all of the land, whether it’s ours or not – and we love our rural lifestyle. We have a deep sense of community; neighbors help neighbors. Yet we remain very, very independent in spirit. We don’t need or want any more services than we have right now. Lakeland cannot offer or provide anything that we want or need because we have it all already. We absolutely do not want annexed. We want to stay rural. We don’t want to live in the city.” Nancy Brannon of Godwin Road said most residents want to remain in a rural reserve area and do not want the annexation. She also said Lakeland can’t provide adequate services to areas it has already annexed. Barrett’s Chapel and Bolton schools also will remain in the Shelby County School system, Brannon said. Robert Dickerson of Deadfall Road oppose annexation because he believes it will increase taxes and restrictions for residents. “The reason my family resides in that area was for the rural setting, natural habitat and the ability to send our children to the best schools, Barrett’s Chapel and Bolton High School.” Charles Mitchell of Idaville Road said annexation would increase taxes by at least 85 cents per $100 of assessed value. He said that Lakeland’s decision to form a new school district is costly, and Bolton residents shouldn’t have to pay for it. “Lakeland and Arlington entered into this agreement for schools, knowing that you didn’t have the infrastructure, didn’t have the student capability, and did not have the long-term ability to build any additional schools and not still have $12 million in debt,” Mitchell said. “Yet you did it anyway. Now you’re looking to annex 1,100 people because 52 people said they wanted it.” Marilyn Jones of Long Road, Arlington, asked, “What can you do for us? This is not a benevolent annexation. This annexation is purely about money and schools. You have debt; we have debt. But our debt is our own. It’s not the city’s debt. We pay our debts; we pay our taxes. It’s not for us to come and support the city of Lakeland. You’ve made your own debt.” Frances Burns of Millington-Arlington Road is also opposed to the annexation, and she said she moved from Memphis to Arlington 12 years ago because she wanted to get out in the county. “I don’t have a problem with Lakeland, but if I had wanted to move to Lakeland, I would have moved to Lakeland.” Ron Williams of Deadfall Road in the Rosemark community has been an activist opposing the annexation, and he said neighborhood meetings have ranged from 20 to 100 people. “We really don’t want more government,” Williams said. “We have enough government, and we feel our county government is really doing a good job for us.” He said they don’t need more codes, ordinances and taxes. “We don’t want to assume any more debt or obligation than we already have to the county.” Williams said the city’s debt is down from $17 million to about $12 million, but he expects Lakeland will incur more. “I think you have problems and we just don’t want to take them on.”
A different view
Lakeland mayor Wyatt Bunker responded and corrected some assertions:
- Lakeland is not attempting to annex the area. It is responding to a request by some Bolton residents. He finds it reasonable to conduct a study to determine if annexation is reasonable and should be put to a vote. “Lakeland did not initiate it,” he said. “Lakeland will not make the ultimate decision. The majority of the voters in that district will, and that’s if it’s even put to a vote.”
- The majority rules. If the annexation study shows it is feasible and if the city puts annexation to a vote, the decision will be made by local citizens, he said. It will not be Lakeland forcing annexation or a tax raise upon the citizens of the Bolton area. “If you do truly have a majority of people in that community who are opposed to annexation, you have nothing to fear of this study, or the ultimate decision of this body, or anything else,” he said. “It’s going to be up to you.”
- No group has come forward as a clear majority. Bunker noted that the city has seen a petition of about 50 residents and an opposing petition from about 500 residents. The Bolton area, however, contains several thousand residents. Failure to do at least a feasibility study and perhaps a referendum has the potential to slight the majority, he said.
- Lakeland is in excellent financial condition. “The assertion that we are in a poor financial position is misguided,” he said. “That’s misinformation.” Bunker also said the city has the capability to pay off its current debt and possibly reduce or eliminate its property taxes in the future. He also said he expects any referendum about annexing the Bolton area would be financed by Lakeland.
In addition to listening to petitioners and handling routine city business, the board also heard presenters on two other key topics.
Sex offender threat
Jay Dorning of Lakeland spoke to the board about a proposed Horn Lake, Miss., ordinance limiting where sex offenders can live (not within 500 feet of a public or private bus stop). That covers a lot of ground, and he predicted that the effect will be to push sex offenders north into Tennessee.
Urban areas that have many schools, such as Memphis, have less to fear because existing laws prevent sex offenders from relocating close to schools, Dorning said. Cities and communities that are more rural, such as Lakeland, are more attractive relocation spots.
He also told the board that it is worrisome because sex offenders have an 85% recidivism rate (relapse into their criminal behavior).
“I’m afraid we’re going to end up with a bunch of them,” he said.
He provided the board with some guideline wording about creating a similar ordinance. Mayor Bunker thanked Dorning for his service to the community as a law enforcement officer and said he and the board will review documents Dorning provided.
Waste pickup update
Gerry Burke of Republic Services also spoke to the board regarding waste pickup in Lakeland. He said missed pickups have been trending down, year over year, with some weather-related exceptions (delays related to March ice storm). Out of 12,000 drive-bys per week, March only showed 39 misses.
Board member Sherri Gallick said a city resident has complained that recycling bins the resident purchased himself have twice been taken away with the recycling. Burke said it may have been mistaken for trash because the provided 18-gallon bin is the standard receptacle.
He also said there have been some questions because the recycling is collected using a garbage truck for efficiency, but Lakeland residents can be assured that recycling is not being mixed in with garbage.
City manager Chris Thomas said the city has received and is reviewing three bid responses for waste pickup, from Republic, Waste Pro and Waste Collections. He will bring a recommendation to the board’s May 1 work session and requesting the board vote on the recommendation at the May 8 business meeting; the contract starts July 10.
Each company also listed nearby cities they also serve, and Thomas said he will be contacting those cities to check on performance by these companies.
Board member Clark Plunk asked about specifications in the new waste management bids, particularly the recycling pickup change from weekly to biweekly and the change from an 18-gallon container to a 96-gallon container (the same size as the trash bin). Burke said the size change was in response to customer complaints that the containers were too small.
Plunk said the issue is that many residents have too little curbside space to put out large containers for trash, yard waste and recycling. He asked that the waste management provider chosen by the city to allow residents to keep the smaller recycling bins if desired. He also asked that Thomas give board members a head’s up before a request for proposal (RFP) is issued when specifications are changed.
Gallick added that there is an ordinance governing where bins can be placed, and that should be considered when evaluating the bid responses.
Written by Carolyn Bahm, editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.