Protesters opposing possible Lakeland annexation of the Bolton rural reserve showed up with polished speeches and signs at the board meeting on May 8, and they left about half an hour later with part of the answer they wanted.
Now Lakeland is instead narrowing the scope and concentrating on the most densely populated southern part of the reserve area (all of Study Area A and the southernmost part of Study Area B in the study’s maps).
Those opposed to annexation in any form were still dismayed to hear the board voting to proceed with a study of a smaller annexation area. A revised feasibility study for the smaller area is due within 90 days.
The protesters became more irate over Lakeland mayor’s statement that he intends to have an open community discussion about the new smaller proposed annexation area, but only residents of that specific area will be allowed to attend. His purpose is to talk it over with the people most directly affected, he said. The city attorney confirmed that this would be a legal process.
Some protesters have noted that, without the annexation, Lakeland currently has a wealth of undeveloped or underdeveloped areas. This is true, with about 75 to 80 percent, as confirmed by Jim Atkinson, Lakeland’s director of planning and administration. But because of legislation changes, this citizen-initiated annexation proposal might be Lakeland’s only change to expand for a long time. (See details in the misconceptions and explanations list below.)
Lakeland mayor Wyatt Bunker commented on why the board is proceeding with a smaller-focused feasibility study, saying, “There’s really only one swat at this thing. We’re grandfathered in under the old law, so we want to make sure we vet the issue thoroughly.”
Since just over 50 Bolton residents proposed the annexation and nearly 600 others have risen up against the idea, some common misconceptions and errors in popular opinion have circulated about the annexation process.
- Misconception 1: Rural reserves cannot be touched. Actually, a rural reserve just means that this section of Shelby County was not claimed by any municipality at the time the rest of the county was carved into municipal reserve areas, according to Atkinson.
- Misconception 2: New legislation forbids Lakeland from continuing to evaluate annexation. City attorney Chris Patterson said this is not true.The state has a moratorium on annexation by ordinance (forced annexation), and new legislation also extends the moratorium to prohibit annexation by petition (annexation by referendum), as well as protects primarily farmlands from annexation unless all landowners in the area agree. However, the Bolton annexation proposal is still permitted because it was already underway when the new laws were enacted, Patterson said.
- Misconception 3: Lakeland has not developed previous annexation area. Lakeland mayor Bunker said the city is providing at least some services in previously annexed areas.
- Misconception 4: Lakeland can’t annex a new area if all city services are not being provided to previously annexed areas. Ronnie Neill, a municipal management consultant with the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), consulted on the first Lakeland feasibility study and said the city’s obligations depend on the plan of service agreed upon at the time of annexation. Bunker and Atkinson said some plans of services were properly developed under previous administrations for earlier annexation areas, but the plans were not properly stored/filed and are not currently available. Bunker said the original plans will be found or the city will follow proper procedures to create new ones to ensure there are plans in place for all annexation areas, including those in the past.
- Misconception 5: The city cannot annex just one section of the area originally proposed for annexation. The annexation process can continue if just one person who requested annexation is within the smaller area, multiple city officials confirmed.
There also have been some open questions about how annexation would affect Lakeland, the rural reserve and surrounding municipalities.
- Question 1: Which school district will have control of Bolton High School and Barret’s Chapel Elementary if they are in the annexation area, as proposed? Answer: Not yet determined.
- Question 2: What happens to the schools’ sewer services IF annexation proceeds, IF schools are in the annexed area, and IF the schools are transitioned into the Lakeland School System instead of remaining with Shelby County Schools?
Answer: It’s possible the payment arrangements may change, depending on the circumstances.
Bartlett city officials provided context: The city’s chief administrative officer Mark Brown said the city purchased the Quail Rise Sewer Lagoon in 1997 from the county, with an agreement to continue providing sewer service to those two Shelby County Schools, Bolton High and Barret’s Chapel, at no charge.
Bartlett’s director of the engineering department, Rick McClanahan, said the sewer line is 3.4 miles long and extends from Barret’s Chapel Elementary all the way to the pump station just south of the Loosahatchie River. The line is force pumped and has not been expanded since Bartlett purchased it.
The pricing arrangement might change if the schools are no longer part of Shelby County Schools, however. The city might begin negotiating with the Lakeland schools if that scenario developed. Predictions are premature at the moment, but Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald responded to a question about whether the city would begin charging the schools.
“I don’t believe we would be required to do that, but there would have to be some discussion between our community and theirs if it got to that point,” he said. He noted that, normally, the service would then be paid or the necessary part of the sewer system might be sold.
Bartlett city attorney Ed McKenney Jr. also said, “We would have to look at it very carefully. More likely than not, there would have to be some new agreement reached.”
Anecdotally, anti-annexers say that Shelby County School officials have assured them that the SCS district has no intention of signing over the two schools if the area is annexed. The Shelby superintendent and school board chairman were not immediately available for comment.
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to email@example.com.