Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he could restart annexations next year if the county doesn't come to the table on consolidation of services.
"It's not over," Littlefield said in a recent interview about his final two years in office.
Littlefield said he halted annexations in the city's growth boundary almost two years ago on condition the county begin talks on consolidation. Since that isn't happening, he said, he can and will start annexing once more.
The first court cases over 2009 annexations are set to be heard in Chancery Court on June 1, city officials said. These involve commercial areas along state Highway 58.
City officials expect six trials in annexation lawsuits over the next year. Littlefield said he thinks those cases should be processed before the city proceeds with new annexations.
"You have to take a breath first," he said.
Bill Reesor, a board member of Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, said he is not surprised.
"This mayor is not going to give up on annexation," Reesor said. "This is his legacy. He wants to make Chattanooga larger than Knoxville."
Henry said last week he opposed the annexation plans. He said the city has never provided cost projections for sewer, police, fire, garbage and other services in annexed areas.
But Henry said it's false to claim the county never came to the table on consolidation talks. Henry said he's always been willing to talk about consolidating services if it would save taxpayers money.
"He's never engaged us or had any talks," Henry said.
Littlefield said that's not true. He said at one point he even went to the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service and asked it to mediate in consolidation talks.
"I've killed several trees taking documents up to the county," Littlefield said.
HISTORY OF ANNEXATION
Littlefield proposed expanding the city's boundaries during a State of the City speech in April 2009.
The first phase in August 2009 included about six commercial areas and subdivisions in Hixson, Lookout Valley, East Brainerd, Apison and Ooltewah. They included the Ramsgate, Ray Jo and Cummings Cove subdivisions.
A second wave announced a week later in the same areas took in Hurricane Creek, Stonewall Farms and commercial properties along Highway 58 and along the side of Lookout Mountain.
The city has said all the new territory is inside the growth boundary set 10 years ago. It takes only a public hearing and two readings of an ordinance to annex, according to state law. However, the City Council in 2009 refused to approve annexations in one area Littlefield wanted.
In October 2009, Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation began filing lawsuits to stop annexation, claiming the city's action was a "money grab."
State laws say municipalities only can annex for health and welfare and public safety purposes.
Then in November 2009, Littlefield told City Council members he was suspending annexations if the county would talk consolidation.
"And they haven't," he said.
CURRENT COURT CASES
City officials said the first lawsuits to be heard next month involve three commercial properties along Highway 58.
Reesor said last week these cases could set a precedent for the rest.
"It goes to trial, and we have a lot resting on that," he said. "We feel this will be a benchmark."
But even if the annexation fighters lose that case, there will be more to come, he said.
"It doesn't matter," Reesor said. "We're going forward. Win, lose or draw, it's going to appellate court."
City Attorney Mike McMahan disagreed.
He said each case is supposed to stand on its own merits. This first case also involves commercial property while the rest are residential areas, McMahan said.
"I see this first one as being different from the others," he said.