Getting CloserBy MEGAN PHILLIPS,
Judge approves signatures for Gluckstadt incorporation
The Gluckstadt incorporation trials have been nothing but a success so far for supporters wishing for the community to become the state’s newest city.
After the first portion of the trials ending March 29, Chancellor James Walker ruled that the signed petition had enough signatures to move forward with phase two, which will begin August 6 and is predicted to last several weeks.
The first phase of the trial officially started in March.
“The judge ruled today that we prevailed on this portion of the trial,” said John Scanlon, attorney for the petitioners. “That means we can proceed forward in August, which will be consolidated with Canton’s annexation case.”
A year ago, the petition for the Gluckstadt incorporation was filed in the Madison County Chancery Court. Days before, the city of Canton filed for the annexation of land that bleeds into the proposed Gluckstadt borders.
“The trial is divided into two different parts,” Scanlon said. “The first one was just to prove whether or not we have the required number of signatures. The second trial will handle all other issues — whether or not Gluckstadt has a plan (for the incorporation process) and will have a sufficient tax base to provide the services we’re arguing the area needs,” Scanlon said.
The Canton annexation case will be trying to prove the same things, which is why both cases will be joined together in August.
“The Canton annexation will have similar issues, that it’s reasonable to annex the areas they’re asking for, and we’ll be trying to prove that the incorporation of Gluckstadt is reasonable through expert testimony, the amount of ad valorem taxes and millage rates it will have, its need for fire services, municipal police, public works, city services…”
Currently, Gluckstadt is receiving those benefits from Madison County, but supporters of Gluckstadt’s incorporation believe it’s reasonable to receive those
services at a municipal level.
Throughout the first phase, Scanlon and other Gluckstadt incorporation supporters worked to prove to Judge Walker that the petition had the correct number of signatures required to prove a need and desire to create a new city.
“On our side, we need to prove there’s a community of identity there and people there that have a separate identity from Madison and Canton… Before we get there, there’s a jurisdictional requirement that we prove that our petition contains signatures of two-thirds of qualified electors residing in the area proposed to be incorporated,” Scanlon said.
Qualified electors mean those who are at least 18 years old, registered voters, an area resident and have committed no disenfranchising crimes.
Opposers of the petition were Mac Haik and the city of Canton.
Mac Haik owns multiple car dealerships throughout the Southeast, one of which was recently placed near Germantown middle and high schools on Calhoun Parkway.
Both opposers attempted to prove that the total number of qualified electors and the Gluckstadt area were bigger than what Scanlon and incorporators claimed.
However, the petition had 107 surplus signatures, amounting to a total of 1,250, according to appointed Mayor Walter Morrison.
“They claimed the number of qualified electors was larger than we said it was,” Scanlon said. “The people on the other side of the equation were making our area bigger and shrinking our portion of the pie. But we had the burden of proof…”
With that, the judge ruled that the incorporators proved they had enough signatures and could move forward to the second phase in August.
“If we’d lost, we could not have moved forward in August… We would be unable to move forward with our part but could oppose Canton… But we did have the required number of signatures required by statute. So, we’re going to continue the discovery phase and move forward with the second part of the trial…”
Mac Haik’s opposition to the Gluckstadt incorporation is not new.
In June of last year, Haik’s lawyer, Jim Herring, approached the Madison County Board of Supervisors to request the exclusion of the Calhoun Parkway dealership.
“He came over and made a big investment,” Herring said. “As soon as he started turning dirt, he had two lawsuits filed against him. At this point, we’re opposing both of them… We’re just questioning if we’re getting any benefits… That’s where we are at the present.”
Herring said he could not comment further on the matter.
“They’re objecting to incorporation (and annexation) in total. But as a fall back, asking to be carved out,” Morrison explained. “It’s bologna, because you’ve got Mac Haik from Texas in our community, and he wants our community to support his car dealership, but he’s going to object to supporting the community.”
If Haik’s dealership was excluded from the annexation and incorporation, his business would not have to pay taxes to a municipality, only to Madison County.
A Mac Haik dealership already exists in Jackson, where the millage is in the 50s, according to Morrison. Canton’s millage is 56.32, Madison’s millage is 28.8, Ridgeland’s millage is 20.03, and Gluckstadt’s is 12.12.
“For every $100,000 in appraised value, that’s 120 a year,” Morrison said. “Canton would be $560 a year compared to Gluckstadt’s $120.”
Legally, Haik’s dealership can be carved out of the incorporation if that part of the suit passes.
“I don’t think a court is going to grant an incorporation and carve them out… but it will ultimately be up to the chancellor. It just stinks from a public policy stance.”
Canton’s efforts to annex are not new, either.
According to Scanlon, Canton had an annexation some years ago that included an intersection projected to have major commercial development that never came to fruition “for various economic reasons.”
The area is located at the intersection of Sowell Road and I-55 and, as required by state statute, connects to the main portion of the city along I-55.
“The annexation runs southwest of the main city, down I-55, and takes in an intersection near the proposed Gluckstadt incorporation,” Scanlon said.
Canton’s current annexation includes multiple areas and portions of the proposed Gluckstadt boundaries.
Scanlon says there’s a long way to go still for the Gluckstadt incorporation to become a reality.
“We still have a lot of game left… This ruling is favorable to Gluckstadt incorporators, but it’s not over.”