Small: Belforest annexation plans on hold

By Thomas Boni
Daphne Bulletin Editor
Posted 4/30/07

BELFOREST — Daphne Mayor Fred Small said in a phone interview Tuesday that he wants to hold off on a proposal to annex the Belforest community.

“At this particular time I think that … until we can benefit everybody’s quality of life, we …

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Small: Belforest annexation plans on hold


BELFOREST — Daphne Mayor Fred Small said in a phone interview Tuesday that he wants to hold off on a proposal to annex the Belforest community.

“At this particular time I think that … until we can benefit everybody’s quality of life, we need to probably wait,” he said.

Small’s decision comes after three public meetings with Belforest residents who vocally opposed annexation.

“I’m gonna recommend that it don’t go for a vote,” Small said to about half the crowd who attended the second part of a two-hour meeting Friday at Pine Grove Church.

At that meeting, Belforest property owners heavily criticized Small’s proposal to annex the rural community east of Daphne. A higher property tax, diminished control over land use and a possible obligation to tap into the city’s sewer were reasons why most of the speakers opposed annexation. Of the past three meetings, only Small spoke in favor of the proposal.

“I think most of the people here … are against it. There hasn’t been anybody that’s come forward that has actually been for it,” Elizabeth Volovecky Hayes said to a Bulletin reporter. “A lot of people are wondering why are we having the meetings if there’s this much opposition.”

“Nobody wants a tax increase, nobody wants to have their land controlled or their property controlled. There’s just not necessarily a need for it,” she added.

Mike Jennings contended that some Belforest families, which, for generations, have owned land for a century or more, may be unable to pay city taxes on their vast acreage.

“Many families have had their land for 100 years or so … I don’t know if they have the funds to pay the taxes … that you’re gonna ask them to pay for their three or four-hundred acres of land, if it’s that much,” he said.

The city charges 43 mills, whereas the county charges 28 mills for unincorporated land, according to a spokesperson from the Baldwin County Revenue Department. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Another issue raised at Friday’s meeting was the cost increase to run a business.

An unidentified woman said she owns a beauty shop and pays $25 a year for her business license. If Belforest is annexed into Daphne, that license would be $105 a year, Small said.

Several Belforest residents said they want to remain unincorporated so they could retain greater control over their property.

“I want to control my land,” an unidentified man said. “If I want to go shoot that armadillo in my back yard, I can do it,” he added.

A crowd applauded.

Property control already had diminished when the county recently set land-use designations for the previously unzoned District 15, which includes Belforest. That action may have made annexation into Daphne, at this time, seem particularly undesirable, Hayes said.

“I think that’s why a lot of people are extra-sensitive to this,” she said, adding that an expansion to Alabama Highway 181 that will destroy several businesses and homes also has soured residents.

Several who attended the meeting Friday also voiced opposition to paying $2,800 to tap into the city’s sewer service — a fee that may be required if the property is located near sewer lines.

An unidentified woman said she lives on a fixed income of about $650, and it would be hard for her to pay increased property taxes and the sewer tap fee.

Despite Belforest residents’ criticisms, Small said the city offers several amenities. He cited Daphne’s police and fire departments; twice-a-week garbage pick-up; and trash pick-up as credits. He also said he would suggest that a large portion of the Belforest area retain its rural agricultural zoning, but property owners maintained their position.

“We still don’t want you!” one woman said, to which a crowd applauded.

“We’ll make our own town; We won’t have these outrageous taxes, these outrageous fees,” one man said.

Small on Tuesday said he was unprepared for Belforest residents’ sharp opposition, but he said their comments were factors in his decision to delay annexation plans.

“I’ve been on more of a fact-finding mission than anything and I’ve found out what I wanted to find out from a consensus of people that showed up at the meeting, and that is that the people want to keep their quality of life and I can’t blame them.

“I think that as a municipality we need to guarantee them that — especially the rural property owners.”

Small said he plans to have a fourth meeting on the annexation proposal. The date for that meeting was unscheduled as of press time.

City Council members had begun to move ahead with annexation plans.

At an April 16 meeting, city leaders approved an annexation resolution by a 5-0 vote. That action allowed the proposal to be advertised as required by state law, city attorney Jay Ross said in a recent interview.

The proposed action would have to be approved by the state legislature, a part-time body that adjourns in June, he said.

The next step would be for legislators to pass a bill and have the governor sign it.

After that happens, an election would be held in which citizens could either support or defeat the proposed annexation, he said.

(Staff writer Jenni Vincent contributed to this report.)