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December 16, 2013

Judge rules against Sullivan’s attempt to annex property

SULLIVAN — A long-running battle over annexation in Sullivan County came to an end Monday — at least for now.

In an 11-page ruling, special judge Joseph Trout of Clay County found the City failed to meet all of the statutory justifications for the proposed annexation. He also ruled that those fighting the annexation, residents and business owners, had successfully made their case against it.

The city was attempting to annex more than 1,000 acres of residential and commercial property to the north and west of the city.

The decision came as a disappointment to Sullivan first-term mayor Clint Lamb, who made waves shortly after taking office by pushing for the controversial annexation. Lamb, speaking after learning of the ruling Monday morning, said he has “absolutely” not given up on the idea of annexation and is considering the City’s options, including an appeal.

“No one will ever convince us that [the annexation area] is not a part of the City of Sullivan,” Lamb said. The city has not grown in size since the 1950s, despite several Sullivan-based businesses leaving the city limits to re-locate closer to U.S. 41, he said.

The city would use additional property tax revenue from the annexation to make road and other improvements, he said.

Lamb also called the annexation a matter of tax fairness. Residents in the annexation area pay lower property taxes but receive city police, fire and sewer services, he told the Tribune-Star Monday.

“We’re just asking them to pay the same,” Lamb said in a telephone interview.

But Judge Trout cited testimony in his ruling that the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department and the Sullivan Police Department mutually aid each other. He also found no evidence that the county fails to provide adequate police protection in the proposed annexation area. A mutual inter-local agreement was also cited for fire protection.

Further, Trout concluded that “the sole reason for the annexation is to increase the City’s tax revenues at the expense of the property owners in the annexation area, which does not qualify as an appropriate need.” Trout also found that the population density of the annexation area was below statutory guidelines, and that an insufficient proportion of the area was subdivided as required by state law.

The city was attempting to annex a large area including a business district along Section Street on the north side of the city and residential neighborhoods closer to U.S. 41 along Wolfe Street, the main entrance to Sullivan from the highway.

The Sullivan City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the annexation in November of last year.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

 

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