By ARTHUR L. MACK
MOBILE — A plan to allow citizens in three areas of Mobile County to vote to annex into the city of Mobile has been held over for two weeks to allow council members and the city’s administration to study the matter further.
During Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting, council members voted 6-1 to hold over the vote, which if approved will add approximately 13,000 people living in the three areas targeted for annexation — the Schillinger corridor, the Airport Boulevard-Snow Road corridor and the King’s Branch corridor — to be added to the city’s population.
Those three areas were scheduled to be voted on by the council to allow people living in those areas to vote on whether to be annexed into the city. But several concerns arose during Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilman CJ Small, who was against delaying the vote, said money spent for police and fire protection for the areas slated for annexation could be put to use in areas inside the city limits, particularly in his district. During a brief power point presentation, Small highlighted areas in his district that had blighted areas, as well as potholes and other issues relating to infrastructure.
“Several neighborhoods (in my district) are suffering and you have trash overflowing,” he said. “Stop putting a Band-Aid on these problems so we can correct our problems and get it right. We’ve got to fix ourselves inward.”
Councilman Fred Richardson and council president Levon Manzie joined Small in being concerned about problems inside the city limits, with Richardson saying the city couldn’t afford annexing other areas.
“If we’re not smart where we annex, it would be an albatross around our necks,” Richardson said.
Another matter that came up was the mailing of flyers to people living in Manzie’s and Small’s districts. A pro-annexation group, called the Mobile Policy Forum, distributed the flyers, urging residents living in those districts to encourage Manzie and Small to support the annexation efforts.
One of the flyers had a picture of a check written for $27 million, which read, “You’re paying for someone else’s bill,” which suggested people outside of the city limits were receiving the same services as people living in Mobile, but are not paying for them. The flyers also had conflicting amounts as to how much revenue would be gained by the city.
That prompted Manzie to call the maneuver “gutter politics.”
“The people in my district didn’t appreciate it,” he said. “What’s the agenda behind it? The citizens in my community didn’t appreciate it. If there was one good thing about it, it woke up a sleeping giant.”
“I refuse to be bullied by a postcard,” Small said during the council’s work session. “It was not only wrong for them to send a postcard, but it also has misinformation.”
One matter that tied in with the proposed annexation was the police and fire jurisdiction. During the regular meeting, Manzie announced he planned to introduce legislation that would roll back the city’s police and fire jurisdictions. Currently, the police and fire jurisdictions are three miles beyond the city limits and affects 70,000 people. Manzie’s proposal would limit what is currently spent outside of the city limits for police and fire protection.
“Right now, according to our public safety director, we’re spending $27 million for those areas outside of the city),” he said. “I want to reduce it to $2 (million). The other $25 million spent could be spent in the corporate boundaries of the city of Mobile. That’s exactly my plan. Now whether it takes a gradual change, I’m open to it, because I don’t want to leave anybody high and dry. But subsidizing areas outside of the city to the tune of $27 million is unsustainable and I hope to have legislation on the agenda Thursday.”
But Public Safety Director James Barber said such a proposal would leave a gap in protection for people living outside of the city limits.
“With that kind of reaction that he (Manzie) has given is that you’ve got 70,000 people without fire suppression in those areas, so that’s not really an option,” he said. “The 1½ mile proposal was a phased rollback that would have kept 80 percent of the population in our jurisdiction, allow the sheriff to take over 20 percent, and then we can begin the systematic phasing. That withdrawal would have been phased so that we don’t leave anybody uncovered.
“The reason we continue to provide fire suppression is because they (people living in the affected area) do not have fire suppression. It’s a different situation than Theodore (which has its own fire station), so when you come into this area, you can’t tell that you left the city of Mobile, because it’s so densely populated. If you pulled all the police and fire out of there, you basically left 70,000 people in our county without coverage.”
Meanwhile, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said several years ago he offered to roll back the city’s police jurisdiction and have the sheriff’s department gradually assume responsibility, but the council refused.
“I’m a little surprised, actually,” Stimpson said. “Go back a few years and we had talked about us spending too much money in the police jurisdiction. He (Manzie) said it, they woke a sleeping giant up and now they realize what we were trying to say.”