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Annex plans coming?

NATCHEZ — Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he initiated a discussion about annexation last month because the city could reap the benefits of additional sales tax revenue by simply expanding its borders.

In what was billed as a state of the city speech to the Rotary Club in mid-June, Brown said people who live in the Beau Pré subdivision “better get ready” for annexation, citing that residents of Beau Pré already receive water, sewage and fire protection service from the city.

The mayor’s comments about annexation were brief during the speech, and Brown said this week his use of Beau Pré was purely for example purposes.

“We are actually looking at corridor annexations, and we will be looking at all the corridors coming into the city that have not been annexed,” Brown said. “The city has grown in every direction it can except for across the river.

“It has developed but we are not reaping the sales tax benefits for the city. The other side of the coin is it doesn’t affect the schools or county government at all for us to annex.”

Aldermen Dan Dillard, Tony Fields, Mark Fortenbery and Sarah Smith all said the topic has not been discussed meaningfully with them.

Brown said the topic has been discussed before.

“They were either absent or asleep at the wheel,” Brown said. “The fact that we haven’t sat down without any metes and bounds so to speak doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about it. They are keenly aware of our need to annex those corridors in and around the city.”

Brown said even if he hasn’t officially brought the topic to the table, he considers his comments at the Rotary Club as starting the conversation.

“The public has been notified and made aware of the interest of the city to expand the city limits,” he said.

Fortenbery said the current topic of annexation is in some sense the mayor setting the agenda for the city.

“It is not a topic I am bringing up and it is not a topic the board is brining up,” Fortenbery said. “I don’t think there is any need for it.”

The city last annexed 2.68 miles of county land in 2009, the first time its borders had been expanded since 1981.

“There is still land in that area with dirt that hasn’t been developed yet,” Fortenbery said.

Fields said he would require further research into the topic before he had a firm opinion on the matter.

“Annex is always something that is kind of thrown around in passing conversation, and now the mayor has kind of put it out there as something he may want to look at doing, but as a mayor and board, that is something we will have to be in discussion about, Fields said.

“Now that we are talking about taking in residential areas, that is another level of responsibility and accountability for the city. My main concern would be in the infrastructure we would have to keep up if we did take those areas in.”

Brown also said annexation may be beneficial to areas outside the city limits if the city and county does not ultimately renew its long-standing fire protection agreement, a matter that has been contentious in recent years.

The mayor said if the city moves forward with annexation, it will be with professional guidance to assess what might actually need to be annexed and what steps will need to be taken to make it happen.

But one long-time hurdle — approval of the annexation by the U.S. Justice Department — won’t be a factor since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling voiding some parts of the Voting Rights Act.

“Annexation may change ward lines — in fact, I am pretty sure it will modify ward lines — but we are not trying to harm anybody,” Brown said. “We are trying to do what is practical and what is feasible for revenue expansion that comes with the corridors into the city.”

Any annexation will still require the publication of public notices, hearings and a hearing in Chancery Court to prove the matter will be beneficial to the city.