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Annexation plan stir emotions

By By Connie Nowlin
Managing editor
Annexation. The very word spreads apprehension in the heart of citizens who entertain images of greedy city tax collectors gobbling up their income.
At the same time it brings businesses and developers hope.
Businesses hope for improved roads and other physical matters, like sewage, water and electrical systems, and intangibles, like fire and police protection.
Developers hope the same things will make their piece of property worth more to prospective buyers.
But it is something almost all municipalities deal with at some time, and Atmore's time is now.
In August, the town purchased 410 acres in two parcels near the interstate from the Department of Corrections. The land is earmarked for an industrial park.
Ninety acres are located east of Highway 21, surrounding the Best Western and Creek Family Restaurant, but not including the businesses.
The other 320 acres is south of the interstate and west of Highway 21.
That $2.26 million sale alarmed residents near the property who feared that they would be part of any annexation.
"I did not want an industrial park near me. I have no desire to live in town, " said Chris Terry, whose family owns a store and gas station near the land in question.
Terry believes the city has designs on more than just the land for the industrial park, that it wants to envelop the residences nearby and by doing so, increase its tax base and raising his family's taxes. At the same time, he does not feel that the city will offer anything of value, since Poarch Creek police and fire units protect the homes in the area.
Taxes outside the city limits are 3 cents less than those inside the city.
Additionally, Terry said the situation was unconstitutional.
"The city broke the state constitution by buying property outside the city limits," he said.
Not so, said Lori Leine, a lawyer for the League of Municipalities.
"A city can own property outside its corporate limits," she said. That property may be held and sold or held and later annexed, becoming part of the town.
That is the case with another piece of land the city plans to annex near the Atmore airport.
"The city has owned the land near the airport for a number of years," said Mayor Howard Shell. "Now we are just adding it to the city."
Shell said there are three ways of adding land to the city proper: by council approval if the land is contiguous to the city, by a vote of the people who live in the area to be annexed, or by legislative action.
"We are not going to annex any residential areas," Shell said. "It must be done (annexation) in the most efficient and practical manner. There are no residents to vote on annexation."
Since the land at the interstate is several miles outside the city limits, the legislative action approach will be used.
Some have said the city is secretive in its dealings.
"This whole deal was done in secret," Terry said.
But Shell said that was not the case.
"I'm not hiding anything," he said. "We are in the process of getting the paperwork together (to begin the legislative annexation process.)"
One of the first steps in that process is to advertise intended action, as required by the state constitution.
In order to give the residents of an area notice of intent to file a bill that affects them, the proposed legislation must be published for four consecutive weeks in the newspaper that serves the area.
The proposed bill was run in the Atmore Advance
at least four times and an affidavit to that effect was signed and delivered to city hall Thursday.
That affidavit is required before a bill may be introduced.
Shell said the city has not decided which of the area's two representatives, Frank White or Pat Lindsey, it will ask to introduce the bill to the legislature.
Next in this series: how the proposed bill is brought before the legislature.