SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Some town council members in Marion County municipalities are wondering why they're being asked to approve proposed growth in Jasper and Whitwell.
The two towns want to expand their growth boundaries — the borders within which they conceivably could annex new territory. Jasper wants to add 9,000 acres, while Whitwell is mostly eyeing a business just outside of town but also wants to include some residential land.
The state's growth planning law requires all the other municipalities plus the county government to approve changes in any town's growth boundary.
The Marion County Commission voted unanimously in June to reject Whitwell's and Jasper's plans. Commissioner Mack Reeves said board members had many reasons for voting no, but it mainly came down to what commissioners saw as the towns' "overreaching" effects.
When the South Pittsburg City Commission met this month, Mayor Jane Dawkins said some city leaders were confused about why they were voting on other towns' business.
"I know the confusion has come about because the County Commission has rejected it," City Attorney Billy Gouger said.
"However, the action by the other governing bodies will help the two cities involved decide if they want to revise those plans and resubmit or to just let those proposals die," Gouger said.
Dawkins said Jasper Mayor Paul Evans recently asked for approval of that town's plan, and she made motions to approve each plan. Her motions failed for a lack of second, and board members did not discuss them.
Kimball's Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously this month to approve the changes to both growth plans.
Alderman Mark Payne said keeping the spirit of cooperation among the towns was an important consideration, too.
"It's kind of hard to vote against the town of Jasper when we've used their garbage truck more in the last year than they have," he said. "Looking down the road, it doesn't matter whether we approve it or not."
Kimball Mayor Rex Pesnell agreed and said the town may need help from Jasper again soon.
Even if the growth plan changes were approved, recent changes in state law ended cities' power to annex by ordinance and now require consent of the people being annexed.
"Unless the law is amended, basically the only annexation you can do is at the request of the property owner — a voluntary-type annexation," Gouger said.
"I personally will never vote to annex any residential property because it costs the town money to annex residential property," Payne said. "The dollars do not make sense to annex residential property."
South Pittsburg City Administrator Sammy Burrows said Whitwell officials plan to resubmit the same plan rejected by the County Commission.
Jasper officials are considering revising their growth plan by "scaling it down," Gouger said.
"Again, it will depend on the response they get from the other cities in the county," he said. "In order for the coordinating committee to know what steps to take next, it has to know how the other cities feel about it, whether they're opposed to it, in favor of it, or indifferent."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.