Residents in Lamar County are raising concern almost a month after potential Bellevue leaders filed a petition to become the next city in Mississippi.
The Concerned Citizens of Bellevue held a meeting Thursday night to discuss the signatures from that petition. Chairman Betty Arnold said the group has been going through a copy of the filing, which is over 4,100 pages long. Arnold said she found a number of irregularities the "public needs to know about."
"Taxpayer money was wasted on a petition that does not even meet the state requirements and these are the people who want to lead a city?" Arnold said. "By state law, they are required to have two-thirds of the registered voters in this area and they fall short of that goal."
On May 18, 2017, potential Bellevue leaders addressed the Lamar County Board of Supervisors with a petition that they said had enough signatures to incorporate the city of Bellevue. Potential mayor John Adcock said they "surpassed" the mark of two-thirds of registered voters needed, but refused to disclose the actual number of signatures the group had collected.
Arnold said with 3,700 eligible voters in Bellevue, the proposed leaders would need two-thirds of voters, which is around 2,500 signatures. Arnold said the document submitted showed 2,184 signatures on the petition, falling about 300 signatures short.
"We checked the voter rolls against the names on the petitions and we found they did not meet the two-thirds of the registered voters," Arnold said.
Arnold went on to discuss issues found with those signatures submitted, including an "unusual and significant" number of duplicates, described as a husband signing for him and his wife, while the wife would sign for her and her husband. Arnold said they also found a number of non-registered voters, people who do not live in the area and entire pages copied and inserted again.
With those findings, Arnold said 600 signatures on the petition should be dismissed, bringing the total to around 1,500 on the petition. Arnold said the leaders proposing the city are "far short" of the approximately 2,500 signatures needed.
"I haven't trusted them from the beginning, because they have never been transparent with their figures or anything," said concerned resident Roma Cole. "They've never come out and said we have "x" number of signatures. As far as any transparency, there's been none."
Cole lives on 52 acres in Lamar County, land that has been in her husband's family for over 100 years. She said they don't want to have to worry about what they can keep on their land, like livestock, if the incorporation happened.
"I don't hear anyone talking about the cost of buying police cars and equipping them, fire trucks and equipping them, salaries for mayor or alderman," Cole said. "It just mushrooms, it grows and grows and grows. And I feel like there's not enough business in this area to support the taxes, therefore it will fall on the homeowners."
Concerns and complaints from residents in the past include city property taxes, sewer fees, garbage pick-up fees, employee salary, buildings and equipment.
The Concerned Citizens of Bellevue have hired an attorney, William Ducker of Purvis. He addressed the group Thursday evening and said he believes they will be able to stop the incorporation on the grounds of the failure to meet the state statute.
WDAM 7 reached out to potential Bellevue Mayor John Adcock Friday in response to the Concerned Citizens of Bellevue.
"The Bellevue Incorporates feel very strongly they have satisfied all jurisdictional requirements for municipal incorporation. We will go through the court process to go through the case, according to the deadline set by the court," Chad Mask, Council of Bellevue Incorporates, said.
At some point, a judge will set a date for a hearing, giving people the opportunity to voice their opposition or support for the future city. As discussed at the meeting Thursday, that date is expected in October or November of 2017.