SUN HERALD | Editorial: As legal fees mount, Biloxi and Gulfport push annexation fight to the Supreme Court

July 5, 2014 

No matter how low on cash city officials claim to be, there always seems to be plenty of money to keep an annexation battle going in court.

For years now, Biloxi and Gulfport have been in and out of courtrooms trying to incorporate the lucrative land around Mississippi 605.

Gulfport filed the first legal claim just shy of five years ago. Biloxi lawyered up a little more than a year later.

The two have been at it ever since, with little to show for it other than a pile of legal fees.

Along the way, Gulfport officials have tried to negotiate a settlement with Biloxi.

Late in 2012, Gulfport Councilman Ricky Dombrowski declared: "We're in a situation where we don't want to spend the taxpayers' money fighting in court. We don't want lawyers talking to lawyers, because they're going to fight."

But Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway would have none of it. "We've come this far," he said at the time. "I don't see any reason to stop now."

At that point, each city had invested about $1 million in the annexation dispute.

And at that point, we wrote: "Odds are, taxpayers in each city will pay even more before the matter is settled or, much less likely, dropped."

That is one prediction we wish we had gotten wrong.

Instead, we could not have been more right.

The annexation case is set to be heard by the state Supreme Court on July 22.

Even if this is the final phase of the legal tug-of-war, is it worth the millions of dollars and years of time it has taken to be resolved?

We have long believed there should be a quicker, less expensive and more satisfactory way to resolve annexation issues.

The Legislature ought to be capable of devising some means of negotiation or arbitration to replace annexation litigation.

Though there would be costs, surely they would not approach these multimillion-dollar legal slugfests in Chancery Court.

Through cooperation and accommodation, cities and counties could also get ahead of annexation disputes by establishing how unincorporated areas will be divided up among municipalities as developments warrant.

That's why we had such high hopes for Gulfport's talk of a truce with Biloxi.

We envisioned leaders of both cities devising an amicable approach to their continued growth through the central portion of Harrison County. We even dared to suggest that if these two cities could work out such an arrangement, it could serve as an example for others along the Coast.

But that example was never set. Instead, the tug-of-war goes on, with taxpayers footing the bill. And there seems to be no desire to put an end to it.

This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.

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