News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Decatur should learn from annexation bid

Perception is reality. It's a lesson Decatur officials should take to heart regarding some 30-plus businesses along Alabama 20 that sought annexation by Trinity in the past year.

As Decatur and Trinity expanded their city limits, a group of landowners who bought land in the county years ago found themselves in Decatur's police jurisdiction and subject to city regulations such as business licenses and building codes. People began showing up at their offices making demands. Building inspectors and license inspectors seemed a little pushy and unhelpful, not like these business owners thought public servants should approach their public customers.

The landowners didn't like how Decatur officials talked about "expanding the tax base" out Alabama 20 without explaining what benefits they as property owners would receive. They didn't like the talk about landscaping and beautification requirements with the inference that their simple metal buildings and gravel parking lots weren't good enough. All this followed the controversial 2001 penny tax increase.

In response, the property owners exchanged horror stories about Decatur, sought legal and legislative advice and invited Trinity to come make a presentation on annexation. They got a visit from a young, energetic mayor who made no promises but pledged that his city would work with them any way he could.

They didn't do a detailed analysis on what it would cost to be in Trinity vs. Decatur. They just didn't appreciate Decatur's attitude. They rebuffed Decatur overtures to come into the city and agreed instead to join Trinity. The result has meant a $60,000 boost to Trinity's budget and a growing roadblock to potential Decatur expansion to the north and west.

It's harder to respond to decisions made more on perception than facts, but Decatur needs to take a lesson, spend some time listening to dissatisfied Alabama 20 property owners, and hone its municipal sales pitch if it wants to add new businesses and residents to the city.

And it needs to develop a truly helpful customer-friendly attitude. In other words, Decatur needs to learn from this episode.

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