Annex plan divides people living there
By Evan Belanger
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A proposed property annexation adding more than 5 square miles to Decatur is getting a mixed response from would-be city residents.
Proposed by Mayor Don Kyle, the annexation would add to the city's northwest corner. It extends north to Alabama 20 and west to Woodall Road.
Kyle said annexation would bring valuable land into the city, making room for economic and residential growth, and create transportation routes.
While joining the city would mean 17 percent higher property taxes for landowners, Kyle said he hopes to secure a promise from the City Council for better roads and sewer service if they join. He also said joining the city would increase property values.
"You want any annexation to be amicable," he said. "But it's not going to be amicable if all you're doing is annexing them in to pay more taxes. With a commitment from the City Council, their property values will go up instantly."
But Kyle's annexation plan faces challenges.
Included in the area is the community of Moulton Heights, where landowners have fought off Decatur annexation attempts for decades. When questioned about the latest annexation attempt, Moulton Heights property owners predicted it will fail.
“It’s immaterial to me whether they do it or not, but I don’t think they’ll ever get people here to sign off on it,” said Marie McCollum, owner of McCollum’s Catfish and Seafood Restaurant.
McCollum, who opened her business in Moulton Heights 46 years ago, once campaigned for the community to join the city. She and others started a petition, but found few people willing to sign.
Today, McCollum says, most people in Moulton Heights feel the same way about annexation. The community already receives Decatur police and fire protection, and McCollum said residents are used to life without other city services, leaving them little to gain.
The story was similar from other business owners.
At Valley Stockyard, owner Billy Wallace said he doesn’t want to stand in the way of progress, but entering the city won’t help his business.
If annexed, Wallace said, he fears growth will bring increased traffic to the area, making it difficult for farmers with cattle trailers to get into his parking lot.
“I have seen stockyards get absorbed and swallowed up by cities and have to move before,” Wallace said. “If Decatur keeps growing like it is, we will have to relocate.”
Valley Stockyard has been at its location since 1954.
Residential property owners made similar statements.
According to Rita and Rickey Young, who have lived in the community for about 20 years, joining the city will mean additional rules and regulations that most do not want.
“You can do a lot more when you’re in the county,” Rickey Young said as he watched his 2-year-old grandson play in a pool in their front yard.
“Whether we want it or not, it’s probably going to happen,” Rita Young said.
Outside Moulton Heights though, a property owner had a different view.
Gene Whisenant and his family own 76 acres at Beltline Road and Trinity Lane, north of Moulton Heights.
The property, on the market for some time, has rail access, but Whisenant said few buyers are interested.
“We would love to be in the city limits,” he said. “I think we would stand a much better chance of selling.”
While he hasn’t established a timeline for annexation, Kyle said he has met with about 15 major property owners and plans to meet with more this fall.
It is unlikely residents in the community will have the opportunity to vote on the annexation proposal.
Because of the sparse population, Kyle said a special election would be impossible, and annexation by individual lots would be ineffective.
Instead, he proposes annexation through legislative act.
While the Legislature could approve the annex without consent from any of the property owners, Kyle said he will seek commitments from at least 60 percent of the property owners before proceeding.
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