Representatives from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District pitched a proposal to annex two areas, one east and one southeast, of Columbus at Columbus City Council’s work session on Thursday.
Vice Mayor Joseph Mickens and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones contacted the GTPDD and asked for the proposal, GTPDD Executive Director Rudy Johnson said.
The two areas taken together would bring in about 2,024 residents, according to figures provided by the GTPDD.
The first area is adjacent to East Columbus, and is bordered by Ward 2 and Ward 3. It is bounded by Highway 82 in the north, Armstrong Road to the east, Lehmberg Road to the west and the area of Deerfield Drive to the south. It includes 631 residents, 512 of which are Black, 105 white and 14 other.
The second area is bounded on the east by South Lehmberg Road, on the south by the area adjacent to Scott Drive, on the west by Hargrove Road and to the north by the approximate area of Vernon Branch Creek. It is adjacent to Ward 1 and Ward 2. It includes 1,393 residents, of whom 1,330 are Black, 36 are white and 27 are other.
Federal law requires even distribution of races between wards.
Both areas are surrounded on multiple sides by the city limits, and create confusion for emergency services, GTPDD GIS Director Toby Sandford told the council.
“Area One should be in the city anyway,” Sandford said. “Any street that starts in the city and dead-ends in the county is a nightmare for emergency services. The police get out there and realize that all those trailers are in the county and they can’t do anything, or vice-versa.”
Mickens asked about the emergency response times for both areas, should they be taken into the city.
“Area One is within the three- to five-minute range,” he said. “That is driving from that closest fire station Monday afternoon at 5 o’clock, which should be your heaviest traffic.”
Area Two is in the five- to 10-minute range, he said.
Mayor Keith Gaskin asked about the number of homes and the tax base in the proposed areas.
“That would be part of the study we would perform,” Sandford said.
If the council decided to go with annexation, Johnson estimated the process would take between six months and a year if there are no protests.
Sandford said GTPDD would charge $40,000 for the annexation study. They also included a $12,500 price for a redistricting plan. The city has to redistrict before the next election regardless, and redistricting would have to be performed anyway in the event of annexation.
“You will have to redistrict,” he said. “If this annexation is something the city wants to do, you would annex first and then you would redistrict.”
Sandford said he couldn’t really say right now which wards the annexed areas would go in.
“Generally when you annex something in, I put it in the closest ward,” he said. “You can’t put it in one that’s not adjacent.”
Speaking to The Dispatch on Friday, Mickens said he wanted to consider annexation to counterbalance the city’s shrinkage.
“The population has been dwindling some…we’re just trying to get the population back up to bring in more revenue and taxes,” he said.
“Hopefully we can get some Olive Garden or some Red Lobster, like people have been asking about. To bring them in we’ve got to be closer to 30,000.”
Annexation would also extend fire and police service into the affected areas, he said.
“You’ve got to look at the time frame for the fire department or the (police department) to get to those areas,” he said. “The fire station on Airline and the fire station on Lehmberg can cover those areas.”
Jones’ reasoning was similar.
“There are advantages to the people,” he said. “They get city services, cheaper fire insurance, those kind of things. For the city we get to draw in more people and hopefully get a bigger tax base by doing that. Different entities who might look at coming here look at the number of people you have in the city.”
Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene said he was open to the idea.
“I don’t look at it as growing or increasing population,” he said. “Some of those places really need to be in the city…You’ve got streets that are in the city and then dead-end in the county. That makes absolutely no sense. It’s time to re-evaluate some things.”
Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard said it sounded like a good idea, but he wanted more information.
“It sounds like a good thing to do because for most of those people in those areas, one side of the street is city schools and one side is county schools,” he said. “It’s already a mix-up. But at the same time I want to know what kind of revenue we’ll bring in by doing something like this. Will it help the city or will it hurt the city to bring it in?”
Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacqueline DiCicco was guarded.
“I think the city should look to a strategic plan where it makes sense to annex at a low cost and for a good reason,” she said. “Annexation comes with costs that have to be considered. I would prefer it be based on the benefit to the city.”
Ward 1 Councilwoman Ethel Taylor Stewart was not at Thursday’s work session.
Gaskin told The Dispatch after the meeting that annexation was something the city should consider, but he wanted to take a more holistic approach.
“I have no problem with looking at it, but if we need to do an entire review of potential annexation,” Gaskin said. “If we’re going to do it, it needs to be holistic and everybody needs to be at the table to discuss it.”
Gaskin said the city should take another look, for example, at annexing north towards Columbus Air Force Base.
“I’ve had people from all areas of the city say they would like to be annexed in, like going towards CAFB,” he said. “That’s a plan that’s been looked at before. Whether we can do it, I don’t know, but it’s incumbent on the city to look all around the area.”
Thursday’s presentation from the GTPDD came after the city had already had Oxford-based Bridge and Watson perform some preliminary redistricting work. Gaskin said the city had paid $6,800 to date for that work to be done.
When asked why bring in the GTPDD, Mickens said it was about keeping things local.
“We’ve been doing business with (Bridge and Watson) for years now, and I like local guys,” Mickens said. “I like to keep it in-house, if we can. This guy is right next door to us, and we’ve got to start supporting the Golden Triangle. You take care of home before you take care of someplace else.”
Jones felt the same way.
“The (GTPDD) has a lot of stuff to offer,” he said. “They do a lot of stuff for counties and municipalities, and Columbus may be the only one they’re not dealing with. If we truly want to be the Golden Triangle, you can’t have one person doing this and one doing that and they’re not in the loop with each other.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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