July 11, 2007 Edition

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WR to fight for property

Gloria Wilkerson
TD Staff

The Walnut Ridge City Council held a special meeting on July 3 to decide a course of action concerning the Hoxie City Council's vote to annex property located along the Highway 63 bypass.

A group of landowners had requested that Hoxie annex two parcels of land totaling 46 acres, which they own along Highway 63 and Highway 67. A petition to that effect was filed on June 11, and the Hoxie City Council voted at a special meeting on June 28 to annex the property and provide city services to the real estate.

With the full council present, City Attorney Larry Steele addressed the aldermen. "As you have all probably read by now in The Times Dispatch, Hoxie has annexed land owned by Red Wing Farms, Wilson Schmidt, Lloyd Cox and Jacqueline Cox," he said. "The land is inside Walnut Ridge's city limits."

Schmidt disagrees saying the land has been detached from Walnut Ridge under a new statute that allows landowners to detach from a city if services are not provided in a timely manner.

The Walnut Ridge City Council had voted at its June meeting to provide city services to the same property following a request by the landowners in April. According to Schmidt, Walnut Ridge did not respond with the required time period.

Steele told the council that the landowners' petition was filed under a new Arkansas statute, which has no case law or precedent and will be a matter of first impression when it goes to court.

The landowners had previously requested that Walnut Ridge release the acreage so that it could be annexed into Hoxie where they believe they will be able to receive city services more quickly and efficiently to allow them to develop the land. Walnut Ridge aldermen discussed the issue but never took any action on that request.

At the July 3 meeting, Steele said he would not object to help from another attorney more experienced in this type of law, even though he felt he could handle the matter by himself if the city did not want to retain additional legal services.

"If you want to object to this action, you need to give me the authority to take proper legal action or retain other legal counsel to help me defend the city's property, or retain other counsel to represent the city on its own," he said.

Mayor Michelle Rogers suggested that the city retain additional counsel to assist Steele. She said that she had made a few phone calls and had several attorneys highly recommended to her.

"If you choose to do this, you need to retain them soon so they will be in on the ground floor," Steele advised. Council member Paula Haskins made a motion to object to the annexation and to take necessary legal action to stop the annexation by Hoxie. The motion carried unanimously.

A motion was made by Alderman Ron Smith to give Mayor Rogers and Steele the authority to retain an additional attorney to assist Steele in this matter. The vote was unanimous in favor of the motion.

"The city of Walnut Ridge will do whatever is necessary to retain the property," Mayor Rogers said. " I was elected to protect this town and its property, and that's what I intend to do."

(TD staff writer Amber Adams provided additional reporting for this article.)

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