Court tells Gulfport to start over in annexation case

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - City growth means more tax revenue, and benefits for residents.  However, how a city expands is the tricky part.

"It's important for a couple of reasons. First of all, the land that we are attempting to annex is within our natural path of growth. 605 is a major corridor. We see over the next 5 years that this is going to be the new business corridor for Gulfport," said Gulfport's Chief City Administrative Officer Dr. John Kelly.

The city of Gulfport had filed a case to annex a portion of land in the northeast section of the city.  The land currently lies within Harrison County, near the 605 corridor.

"They had adopted an annexation ordinance which adopted the Frisby agreements which I had referred to as the Sweetheart deal, because it required the city of Gulfport to buy the water and sewer system up at fair market price," said Harrison County Board Attorney Tim Holleman.

However, after two weeks of trial, the Gulfport Council made some changes to the annexation agreement. Those changes prompted the judge to dismiss the case.

"We put together what we call a memorandum of clarification.  That memorandum of clarification was supposed to help clarify the earlier document that we had before the judge. What the judge was saying is perhaps there was new information in the new memorandum that was not in the old memorandum," said Kelly.

The court ruled that the City of Gulfport "fundamentally altered its plans for the delivery of municipal improvements." And that the city should adopt a new annexation ordinance, file an amended petition, and re-publish public notices as required by law. In order to do that, the court said the petition had to be dismissed.

This came as good new to Biloxi leaders who also want to see their city grow.

"I felt this was trying to block Biloxi off from its growth  and so, I felt didn't have any choice but to defend the city," said Biloxi Mayor AJ Holloway.

"We hope that having the Gulfport annexation dismissed, maybe everyone will come to the table to discuss, maybe this isn't a good time to be annexing," said Holleman. "We also have to recognize that we are spending- $1.3 million was spent up to prior the judge's ruling. That's a lot of employees, a lot of raises of people that need it."

Gulfport leaders say they are disappointed in the ruling, and will address further action in the coming weeks.

"It's a set back from the stand point that we lose very valuable time. Will we continue to pursue this? You bet we will," said Kelly.

Click here to view the complete ruling from Chancery Court.

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