North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

March 17, 2014

Gardendale council sets up annexation committee to approve new applications

Move draws fire from Mt. Olive residents wanting to be part of new school system

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — The Gardendale City Council has established a new committee to help control any possible influx of annexation requests that may come about because of the city's new school system.

The annexation committee was approved unanimously by the council in Monday night's regular session, and wasn't without controversy. One resident of Mt. Olive, whose property is adjacent to the city limits, asked the council if the annexation application he and nine neighbors just filed would be considered under previous policies, or new ones.

Johnathan Wolford, who lives on Gary Drive just off Shady Grove, filed the applications with the city last week. He started the effort to get his neighbors to annex several weeks ago, and found out that the city would require a fire hydrant to be installed. Wolford said the group paid about $11,000, mainly in six years' worth of fire dues required as compensation to the Mt. Olive Fire District; another $2,500 was to be paid for the hydrant.

Now Wolford is wondering if the applications will be considered anytime soon, given that the properties are not in those included in the first phase of the new annexation method.

"I paid a $250 application fee as well, which hasn't been cashed," Wolford said, adding that he was told when he filed the application that changes in the process might be coming.

The properties in the first phase of those that will be considered for annexation are on streets to be listed by Inspections Director Robert Ryant, which will be released Tuesday morning. Council president Stan Hogeland said that the first phase will primarily be streets where some properties are already in the city and some not due to previous individual annexations. Put another way, the first phase would not extend the perimeter of the city limits appreciably, and therefore would be easiest to provide city services for since they are all but in the city already.

The committee will consist of seven members: Mayor Othell Phillips, a representative of the council, Fire Chief Clint Doss, Police Chief Mike Walker, Public Works Director Jeff Holliyan, Ryant, and the president of the new board of education, which has yet to be named.

Hogeland said that when the committee receives an application, the various members will determine how much it will cost each department to provide services to that property.

“Is it going to affect the school? Can your school handle the amount of students that will be brought in with this [application]?... Fire chief, you tell me what it would cost if we annex this area. Police chief, you tell me what it would cost.” Hogeland said.

The move brought a rebuke from Tracy Calvert, one of the leaders of the MO Matters group that sought to annex the entire area of Mt. Olive whose schoolchildren are zoned to attend Bragg Middle and Gardendale High schools — students who will be outside the new city school system’s boundaries.

“This is a direct contradiction from a city council who told us on numerous occasions, ‘We care about Mt. Olive and we want those children to attend this school,’” Calvert said. “We have tried every method under the sun possible to create paths. We started by trying to annex all of [the area], and for reasons they said no. Now people who are are contiguous to the city are trying through their legal and rightful method of annexation, by paying and doing what they are supposed to do — the city has said, ‘We can’t honor that either.’ So my frustration is — ‘Don’t tell us you want us.’”

Craig Goolsby, another leader of MO Matters, said he was “perplexed” that the city said there was no policy on annexation, “when there’s one on their website today.”

Hogeland replied that the website contains the procedures for applying to be annexed, not a policy on what properties would or would not be considered, and that the city still wants the Mt. Olive residents to be a part — even if it’s not right away.

“Annexation requests on roads will be considered after the policy has been developed and adopted,” Hogeland said.

Hogeland would not give a time frame on when properties outside the first phase would be considered.

This is a developing story; we’ll have further updates later.