IN RE EXTENSION OF BOUND. OF BATESVILLE

Decision Date16 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. 97-CA-01419-SCT.,97-CA-01419-SCT.
Citation760 So.2d 697
PartiesThe Matter of the EXTENSION OF the BOUNDARIES OF the CITY OF BATESVILLE, PANOLA COUNTY, Mississippi. Committee Opposed to Annexation v. City of Batesville.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Guy T. Gillespie, III, Attorney for Appellant.

Colmon S. Mitchell, Hernando, Attorney for Appellee.

EN BANC.

WALLER, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. This municipal annexation case is an appeal from the Chancery Court of the Second Judicial District of Panola County. Finding that the Chancellor erred in approving all of the admittedly aggressive annexation at issue, we reverse in part and affirm in part the proposed annexation.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶ 2. The City of Batesville is a municipality located just south of the Tallahatchie River in Panola County at the confluence of Mississippi Highways 6 and 35 and U.S. Highway 51. At the time of the proposed annexation, Batesville had a population of more than 7,000 people. When the annexation petition was filed, the easternmost city limits were generally delineated by Interstate Highway 55, except for two tracts east of I-55: an Industrial/Commercial development at the intersection of Highway 35 North and I-55, and a narrow corridor along Highway 6 East. These two parcels of land were the subject of the most recent annexations prior to the annexation at issue. The Industrial Park area was annexed in 1979, along with several other tracts of land to add some 1,500 residents to the city. The Highway 6 corridor was annexed in 1988, adding just over 200 residents. At the time of the annexation sub judice, Batesville encompassed 11.8 square miles, or 7,552 acres. The annexation would enlarge Batesville by 11,667 acres or 18.23 square miles, and would increase the population by over 800 residents.

¶ 3. Of the proposed annexation area, the Chancellor refused to allow Batesville to annex 2,140 acres or 3.34 square miles, which ruling Batesville has not appealed.1 On the other hand, the Committee Opposed to Annexation ("the COA") is not objecting to the annexation of 4,800 acres or 7.5 square miles. The disputed areas which are the subject of this appeal are two parcels of land which are mostly residential and agricultural and consist of 4,467 acres of land or 7 square miles. Thus, even excluding the areas of dispute in this appeal, Batesville's metropolitan area has been increased from 11.8 square miles to 18.8 square miles. A map depicting the City of Batesville and the areas that are the subject of this appeal is set out as Appendix "A."

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶ 4. The only issue before the Chancellor was whether the proposed annexation was reasonable.2 See City of Jackson v. Town of Flowood, 331 So.2d 909, 911 (Miss.1976)

; Ritchie v. City of Brookhaven, 217 Miss. 860, 870-873, 878, 65 So.2d 436, 439-40 (1953). The annexation trial lasted over four days, often going late into the evening, involved hundreds of exhibits, and culminated in a tour by the Chancellor of the proposed annexation area with each side pointing out the areas that supported their respective positions.

¶ 5. On August 29, 1997, the Chancellor found that the proposed annexation was reasonable and confirmed the extension of Batesville's boundaries with some exceptions.3 The Chancellor also excluded some of the proposed areas of annexation that are not at issue since Batesville did not cross-appeal.

¶ 6. The COA opposes annexation only in the two areas in which the 127 members of the COA reside: the "Brewer Road Area" (a rectangular tract of land comprising all of Section 2 and parts of Sections 1 and 3, Township 9 South, Range 7 West, along with a parcel located on Harmon Road in Section 36, Township 8 South, Range 7 West, and the "E½-Corridor 6 South Area") (a tract of land comprised of a small parcel of land north of Highway 6 East, and a large area south of Highway 6 East, found within Sections 7, 8, 17, 18, 19, and 20 of Township 9 South, Range 6 West, and Sections 12, 13 and 24 of Township 9 South, Range 7 West, and consisting of the Cotton Plant Road, Good Hope Road, and Mount Olivet Road areas, which generally lie in the eastern half of the southern portion of the Corridor 6 area). There are two issues raised by the COA in this case:

I. WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR ERRED IN GRANTING THE CITY OF BATESVILLE'S PETITION FOR ANNEXATION, OR WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR COMMITTED MANIFEST ERROR IN FINDING THE ANNEXATION REASONABLE.
II. WHETHER A LESS DEFERENTIAL STANDARD OF REVIEW SHOULD BE APPLIED TO A CHANCELLOR'S FINDINGS IN AN ANNEXATION CASE.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 7. We may reverse a Chancellor's determination that an annexation is either reasonable or unreasonable only if that decision is manifestly erroneous or is unsupported by substantial credible evidence. In Re the Enlargement and Extension of the Municipal Boundaries of the City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d 270, 277 (Miss.1999) (citing McElhaney v. City of Horn Lake, 501 So.2d 401, 403 (Miss.1987); Extension of Boundaries of City of Moss Point v. Sherman, 492 So.2d 289, 290 (Miss.1986); Enlargement of Boundaries of Yazoo City v. City of Yazoo City, 452 So.2d 837, 838 (Miss.1984); Extension of Boundaries of City of Clinton, 450 So.2d 85, 89 (Miss.1984)). "Where there is conflicting, credible evidence, we defer to the findings below." Bassett v. Town of Taylorsville, 542 So.2d 918, 921 (Miss.1989). "Findings of fact made in the context of conflicting, credible evidence may not be disturbed unless this Court can say that from all the evidence that such findings are manifestly wrong, given the weight of the evidence." Bassett, 542 So.2d at 921. "We only reverse where the Chancery Court has employed erroneous legal standards or where we are left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made." Id., cited in City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d at 277.

DISCUSSION

I. WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR ERRED IN GRANTING THE CITY OF BATESVILLE'S PETITION FOR ANNEXATION, OR WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR COMMITTED MANIFEST ERROR IN FINDING THE ANNEXATION REASONABLE.

¶ 8. In City of Biloxi, this Court unequivocally stated the standards by which a Chancellor must judge the reasonableness vel non of a city's proposed annexation:

The outcome determinative question of ultimate fact before the chancery court is the reasonableness of the proposed annexation. Over the years our case law has developed a number of factors that should be considered in this context. Before listing them, it should be emphasized that these factors are but indicia of reasonableness and not separate or distinct tests in and of themselves. Bassett, 542 So.2d at 921.
In a series of cases beginning with Dodd, 238 Miss. at 396-97, 118 So.2d at 330, including McElhaney, 501 So.2d at 403-04, and City of Greenville v. Farmers, Inc., 513 So.2d 932, 941 (Miss.1987), this Court has recognized at least eight indicia of reasonableness. These are (1) the municipality's need for expansion, (2) whether the area sought to be annexed is reasonably within a path of growth of the city, (3) the potential health hazards from sewage and waste disposal in the annexed areas, (4) the municipality's financial ability to make the improvements and furnish municipal services promised, (5) the need for zoning and overall planning in the area, (6) the need for municipal services in the area sought to be annexed, (7) whether there are natural barriers between the city and the [proposed annexation area], and (8) the past performance and time element involved in the city's provision of services to its present residents.
Other judicially recognized indicia of reasonableness include (9) the impact (economic or otherwise) of the annexation upon those who live in or own property in the area proposed for annexation; Western Line, 465 So.2d at 1059, (10) the impact of the annexation upon the voting strength of protected minority groups, Yazoo City, 452 So.2d at 842-43,

(11) whether the property owners and other inhabitants of the areas sought to be annexed have in the past, and for the foreseeable future unless annexed will, because of their reasonable proximity to the corporate limits of the municipality, enjoy the (economic and social) benefits of proximity to the municipality without paying their fair share of the taxes, Texas Gas Transmission Corp. v. City of Greenville, 242 So.2d 686, 689 (Miss.1970); Forbes v. City of Meridian, 86 Miss. 243, 38 So. 676 (1905); and (12) any other factors that may suggest reasonableness vel non. Bassett, 542 So.2d at 921. More recent cases have also relied upon these twelve factors. In re Enlargement & Extension of the Mun. Boundaries of the City of Madison, Mississippi: The City of Jackson, Mississippi v. City of Madison, 650 So.2d 490 (Miss.1995) (hereinafter, "Madison"); In re Extension of the Boundaries of the City of Columbus, 644 So.2d 1168 (Miss.1994) (hereinafter "Columbus").

The chancellor must consider all of these factors and determine whether under the totality of the circumstances the annexation is reasonable. Id. at 921-22; In the Matter of the Extension of the Boundaries of the City of Vicksburg, 560 So.2d 713, 716 (Miss.1990); In re Enlargement of Corporate Boundaries of the City of Booneville v. City of Booneville, 551 So.2d 890, 892 (Miss.1989)

; In the Matter of the Extension of the Boundaries of the City of Jackson, 551 So.2d 861, 864 (Miss.1989).

City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d at 276-78.

1. Batesville's Need for Expansion

¶ 9. The Chancellor found that Batesville had evidenced a need to expand. Specifically, the court looked to the residential, commercial, and industrial development occurring along Highway 35, Brewer Road, Highway 6, Sherwood Forest Estates (which already had been furnished municipal services), Good Hope Road, Cotton Plant Road, Trantham Road, and the Fox Meadows subdivision. The Chancellor also took notice of the small percentage of developable land available within the current city limits.

¶ 10. Batesville supported its claim...

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