Stonebridge to Nowhere

The residents of Stonebridge, a wealthy enclave in northwest Shelby County, have spoken: they’d rather be part of Lakeland than part of Memphis. Other areas should be permitted to have a similar choice.

It is an indication of the prevalent attitude of hostility by suburban residents towards Memphis’s annexation policies that if you were to tell someone that a suburban enclave had voted 99% in favor of being annexed, you’d probably be laughed at, if only because of the sheer improbability of a vote being permitted. Yet exactly this scenario happened on Tuesday, with a catch: the residents in question voted for immediate annexation by Lakeland over eventual annexation by Memphis.

Of course, the Stonebridge residents’ decision was a no-brainer: Lakeland doesn’t have a property tax and continues to receive county services, so most households are likely to see only a modest change in their trash collection fee. Other communities would probably face greater costs in response to annexation by a suburban municipality; still, those costs would be far less than those imposed by a Memphis government that is literally spread too thin to operate efficiently at any tax rate.

For example, the recent annexation of the Wolfchase Galleria area has reduced police coverage to one police car per shift; the area’s fire coverage is two Memphis firefighters in a pickup truck followed by a county crew to do the actual work. This level of service is abysmal, but it is typical of the results of annexation by Memphis: a massive tax increase followed by a decline in services. In the case of the Wolfchase annexation, it is already providing a positive return to Memphis’s tax rolls, since the city has chosen not to provide any services and all of the property owners are prohibited by the city from contesting the annexation.

It is an indication of how thinly stretched Memphis is that most of the pending annexation areas except Hickory Hill are closer to a suburban municipality’s police headquarters than they are to a Memphis precinct house: the Forest Hill area is closer to the police headqarters of Collierville, Germantown and Olive Branch than it is to the East Precinct.

The clear solution to this problem is to allow the other annexation areas which are adjacent to suburban municipalities to choose those municipalities over Memphis: unlike the Wolfchase area, these annexation areas do not have sales tax revenues and their residents are not barred by their property covenants from forcing Memphis to actually provide the services that the city is legally obligated to provide. In particular, the Deerfield/Hillshire area should be permitted to merge with Bartlett and the South Cordova and Forest Hill annexation areas should be allowed to merge with Germantown.

The bottom line: Memphis should not annex territory it has no intention of providing services to; allowing the above areas to join other municipalities will allow Memphis to concentrate on providing services to a more compact area which it can serve effectively.

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