Ohatchee looks to annex strip south to county line

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: July 28, 2006

The Ohatchee City Council is moving forward with plans to annex a strip of land bordering both sides of Alabama 77 to the Talladega County line, 5 1/2 miles away.

Council members agreed at a recent meeting that annexing the strip would be a strategic move, designed to protect the town’s interests.

Ohatchee, which covers about 16 square miles, has grown by annexation several times in the last decade. Mayor Joseph Roberson said the town should annex the new strip of land to prevent encroachment from Lincoln in Talladega County to the south.

“I think we should (annex the land) because Southside did it to us, they came all the way to the county line, to our city limits, and I expect Lincoln one day is going to do the same thing,” Roberson said.

The land in question begins just below Ohatchee’s town hall, at the intersection of Alabama 77 and Alabama 144. The proposed annexation would take in 300 feet on either side of Alabama 77 for 5 1/2 miles, to the border with Talladega County.

As Ohatchee looks to continue its commercial and industrial growth, the council wants to secure the highway corridor that connects to I-20.

“It’s protecting our interest (and) growth potential in years to come and making it easier to facilitate growth with companies,” Roberson said.

While the council unanimously agreed to move ahead with annexation plans, some residents said it would be complicated and costly.

“Lincoln’s not going to try to move into Calhoun County, they won’t even answer their own fire calls a mile from the county line – they have us do it,” said John Cohn, a firefighter with the Mount Olive Volunteer Fire Department who attended the council meeting. “It’s a nice idea, but you might want to take it a section at a time or something, as opposed to biting off a whole 5 ½-mile chunk.”

Roberson said that is one of several options being explored. The next step in the process, he said, is to consult with the state legislators who represent Ohatchee, hold a public hearing for the affected residents, and then decide whether to hold a referendum and whether to annex the land all at once or in sections. Roberson estimated between 80 and 100 homeowners would be affected.

The mayor said there are many benefits to being inside the city limits, such as nearby police protection and assistance with utilities if a business wants to buy someone’s land. Property taxes of annexed residents would increase slightly, he said.

“There’s always resistance to change … I’ve heard a few people say, not a lot, you know we don’t want to be burdened by more laws or regulations or restrictions (but) really we don’t bring that many more to them,” Roberson said. “I don’t really see a downside to it.”

Danny Poss owns the Ohatchee General Store on Alabama 77, a business that lies within the proposed annexation area. He said that if his taxes did not go up significantly, he would consider it a benefit to have more police patrols in the neighborhood.

“I’d like to see the town grow and I guess that’s the only way it’s going to do it,” Poss said.

But he said he thinks most of the people living there would rather not be in the city limits.

“I guess they just feel like being in the city limits wouldn’t offer them any more benefits,” he said.

Cohn said he thinks the annexation might take fire-tax money from the Mount Olive Fire Department.

“I suspect it would affect our revenues,” he said. “That’s a lot of ground to cover. I understand it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but that’s still biting off a big chunk of headaches and paperwork, because a lot of people live down that road.”

Cohn himself lives in the jurisdictional no-man’s-land between the Lincoln and Ohatchee town lines. His postal address is in Lincoln, but his children attended Ohatchee schools, he said.

Roberson said he doesn’t think annexing the land would affect the fire districts, which are set by the Forest Service, and that tax revenues collected by the city go back into the volunteer fire departments.

“We’re not really talking about a lot of area,” he said. “Hopefully people will be in favor of it and see what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do a positive thing, not a negative thing, and hopefully they will want to work with us.”

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