Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TOP STORY > >Annexation plan: Many in area say they’re against it

Leader executive editor

People who live north of Jacksonville near Hwy. 67/167 met at a church Monday evening to fight the city’s plan to annex the area.

They met at North Jacksonville Baptist Missionary Church near the strip joints, liquor stores and a lingerie shop. Lyndon Whitledge, the longtime pastor, summed up the group’s feelings about the annexation plan, which goes before the voters Nov. 2:

“I’m against it,” said Whitledge, who lives in town but whose church is in the affected area.

About 40 residents listened and spoke out and agreed to put up yard signs and mail out cards that will have a simple message:

“Vote no to annexation and higher taxes.”

They fear losing their independence and their animals and barns if Jacksonville swallows up 2,200 acres where they live.

Not everyone at the meeting was hostile toward Jacksonville. Richard Robertson, who opened the meeting, said, “We’re friends of Jacksonville, but this is not in the best interest of Jacksonville.”

But emotions ran high for most of the hour-long meeting.

“Jacksonville has problems they can’t take care of,” said another resident. “Why take on more?”

It was like a town hall meeting, tent revival and Tea Party rally rolled into one. These are independent people who don’t trust government and don’t think they get good value for the taxes they pay.

The Tea Party is not much of a political force in Arkansas, but you feel its presence at city council and at quorum court meetings and at public forums like this one.

There was talk of filing a lawsuit because many residents think the annexation is illegal. They hate the idea of urban living, especially the costs that go with it.

“Why do they want us?” someone asked.

“Code enforcement will check how tall your grass is. They’ll make us stop burning leaves on our property. But they were burning them at the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield,” said another, hinting at a double standard.

Jacksonville officials say the area is where the city should expand. They’ll also annex a smaller area south of town, where there’s no opposition.

The city lost Gravel Ridge in an annexation fight with Sher-wood. Gravel Ridge residents voted to go with Sherwood, but this time the vote will include just city and rural residents, who are outnumbered 10-1.

To win them over, officials have said they might not ban farm animals and barns if the area is annexed, but residents are skeptical.

One resident said he was cited by the Pulaski County Humane Society for not feeding his animals. He denied the charge and said he was harassed because he has spoken out against annexation.

“I’ll fight them to the end,” he vowed.

“I don’t trust city hall,” Whit-ledge said, standing behind a lectern, as if he were sermonizing about the devil and his temptations.

“The grandfather clause is not a good thing,” Whitledge insisted. Those who own farms would lose them if they sold them or passed them on to their children, he said.

“Property rights are worth fighting for,” Whitledge said. “Freedom is something worth fighting for.”

“This is winnable. You need to get Jacksonville on your side,” said a Jacksonville man.

The city will hold a public forum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday before the council meeting.

“We’re not hurting anyone,” Robertson said, urging residents to attend. “We want to be left alone.”