Chopping up Memphis

Annexations in Memphis - via SmartCityMemphis blog
Annexations in Memphis – via SmartCityMemphis blog
It seems like its been a while since the caucus of hillbillies up in Nashville set Memphis in their sights.

That’s not to say their disdain for Memphis has diminished any, just that they’ve been too busy fighting the United Nations, Affordable healthcare, and and closing down rural hospitals as a result, and fighting for the right to dump pig shit in rivers and streams.

In short, its been the same as it ever was up on the Hill in Nashville. They’ve mostly left us alone…too busy posturing to propose something truly ruinous, and with just enough sane people to keep that really bad legislation from getting too far or being too effective.

Its kinda like free range parenting…keep ’em off the highway and out of the bear traps and most everything else will work itself out.

In all seriousness, our General Assembly consistently does stupid stuff. So much, that there’s no way I could keep up with all of it. And if I did, I’d be so depressed about the state of our state, I’d need to open a hospital to deal with it.

An End to City Planning

So it came as no surprise when this little gem came to light Wednesday. (PDF)

The De-Annexation bill, or as I like to call it, the “Safe Haven from Majority Minority Cities Act”, or the “Those folks who moved to DeSoto County had it right act”, or best still the “We’ve been in the City for nearly 20 years, but we’re still racists and still want to leave ASAP bill”, would create a way for people who don’t like the city they live in to leave it, without having to go to all the trouble of moving (certain restrictions apply).

No matter what you call it, this bill is designed to purposefully kick Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knockville in the dainty bits.

The bill is sponsored by Hamilton County Representative Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and his Senate counterpart Bo Watson (R-Hixon).

Carter and Watson also helped pass the 2014 bill that basically made it impossible for a city to annex an area without approval of a majority of the people to be annexed.

This is their crusade…a crusade that began a long time ago, but seems to be centered around the tenure of former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, though there’s probably more to it that neither you nor I actually care about.

The bill sets the arbitrary date of May 1, 1998 as the deadline for people wanting to leave their city without actually leaving. Why is that? I dunno. I guess they thought going all the way back to the 70’s…the 1870’s was just too far.

While this seems to be centered around something particular to Chattanooga, it also has an impact here in Memphis. As you can see from the map above, there are areas that would have the right to vote themselves out of the city if this bill passes. And some of those areas are the home to some big time commercial real estate. Losing them would hurt the city both in property tax and sales tax collection.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Mayor Strickland is worried about this. Its a legitimate concern…but one that’s largely out of his hands.

The best case scenario is that this bill quietly dies, like it did last year. But that’s not a sure thing.

What this bill does is make it hard for cities like Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and strangely enough tiny Connersville, TN to have any say in their destiny. Much like the strict forced annexation law of 2014, this bill would make it impossible for cities to plan for the future. Any area covered under the legislation could spend years organizing to leave a city, despite services being delivered, then with one stroke, go their own way, regardless of the investment the city put into the area.

Open to De-Annexation?

One of the things that came out of the Commercial Appeal article is the statement made by Mayor Strickland that he’s ‘open to the discussion of shrinking the footprint of Memphis.’

This isn’t a new idea. Its something that the Wharton Administration considered, though no one knows how seriously. And its something Smart City Memphis blog has openly discussed.

The area that makes up the Memphis City Limits is enormous. The size of Memphis has grown exponentially since the 1990’s with no real increase in population, which leads to a net decrease in population density. That means it takes more dollars per person to provide the service that a city needs to deliver…which in turn, contributes to higher property tax rates.

The argument goes, that by de-annexing some parts of the city, we could reduce our cost per square mile, and by extension, reduce our tax burden. I’m not saying this is an argument I completely buy, but its one that’s been put out there. I still haven’t seen hard data that supports these claims, just theories.

Personally, I’d rather focus on making those areas that aren’t that ‘productive’ in terms of revenue, more productive so they’re less of a drag on city resources (this would also mean the people living in these areas would have better jobs, which is something Memphis desperately needs). But that’s not something that happens over night. It takes a lot of time and planning…which is not our forte around here.

As for the bill, its in Calendar and Rules in both the House and the Senate, which is the final step before being moved to the floor. We’ll just have to see if the bill moves from there. Considering how opaque the General Assembly is on what gets out of Calendar, we might not know about it until the last second.

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