I have to admit to being a bit taken aback by some of the anger expressed over discussions of shrinking the city of Mobile’s Police Jurisdiction by 50 percent in order to save roughly $2 million a year.
Frankly, I guess I just didn’t understand that people living outside the city really cared about having city services such as police and fire protection. Over the years it’s always felt like — at least among the people I’ve spoken with — there’s a bit of disdain for the city with all its rules about roads, building codes and roosters.
But as elected leaders pondered shrinking the amount of mileage outside city limits that would be covered by Mobile’s police and fire departments, there has been some genuine anger from at least a vocal minority in the wild, wild west.
Much of that angst has been expressed on the World Wide Web, believe it or not, which I find unusual since people are generally so restrained when offering their opinions on the internet. At least a couple of people I know who were mighty impressed with Mayor Sandy Stimpson and even the City Council to a large extent are now frothing all over their keyboards that the city would have even considered pulling back on the coverage.
The more hysterical approach goes something along the lines of how sorry the mayor and council will be once someone either burns to death, is shot to death, stabbed to death or all of the above in an area that used to be covered by the city’s first responders. They are also very concerned the city will simply yank the protective rug out from under them at the end of this year with no plan whatsoever.
On Tuesday the council voted down reducing the PJ, citing among other things the need for cooperation between the county and city. The county has been mightily vexed by the concept of shrinkage as well, since it would cost them more to provide coverage for those who lost it. Sheriff Sam Cochran said reducing the PJ would mean him having to hire another 26 deputies, which is no small expense.
Still, Mayor Stimpson intends to bring shrinking of the PJ back to the council next week, so this matter hasn’t been put to rest by any means.
But back to what intrigued me most about all of this in the first place. I have been shocked by the attitude of those who feel they should be provided city services without actually living in the city. I’ve heard a few try to argue they work in the city or pay sales taxes, etc., but the fact remains they’re getting city services without being full-fledged citizens of Mobile. So I’m not really sure how much outrage they should be allowed.
I’m not saying that to pit citizens against non-citizens, but more to show there’s some real passion there — passion that presents an opportunity for the city to grow. If residents of the PJ really like those city services so much, why don’t they get together and petition to actually join the city?
I get that having areas annexed into Mobile doesn’t exactly stop the issue of taking care of the PJ, as it just moves farther west if unincorporated areas join the city, but adding citizens via annexation does have value for everyone.
There are obvious bonuses, such as larger cities getting more federal and state funding, and there’s also the matter of bringing in new people who have a vested interest in seeing the city stay on the right track.
So many cities have been ringed in by smaller municipalities. People go to work in the city but then drive back home to their tony bedroom communities. The city in the center kind of dies of starvation for lack of citizens and the money that comes with them, while the bedroom communities thrive. Recall that not so many years ago there were efforts to incorporate West Mobile that would have effectively hemmed in the Port City and doomed us to being forever a city of roughly 200,000 people.
I’m sure during all this discussion of shrinking the PJ the thought that it might encourage some WeMoshans to give more thought to annexation has crossed more than a few minds. Hopefully the City Council will give that consideration when the issue comes up again. It seems like the solution that offers the most opportunity for everyone to win — the county wouldn’t have to add more coverage and the city would see increased tax revenue that would help pay for cops and firefighters in the newer parts of the city.
Yes, people of the PJ, you have a lot going on. It’s a virtual PJ party out there these days. There are stores and restaurants and fancy subdivisions and Golden Corral with its chocolate and cheese fountains. Life is good. But life is getting better inside the city limits as well. There’s Airbus, and revitalization plans and a cool downtown and even a fondue place. It’s kind of like a cheese fountain.
I’m not saying being annexed into the city would automatically make people want to take advantage of different types of hot cheese or downtown festivals, but let’s face it, as the city goes, so goes the PJ. Clearly a lot of people living there like certain city services and have come to depend upon them. Putting more skin in the game, so to speak, only helps ensure that those services will remain. Having thousands of new, active and interested citizens would only help Mobile be a bigger and better city.
Maybe, regardless of what happens, this whole discussion of shrinking the PJ is good for the city and the people who kind of almost live in the city. At least now we know many people “out there” do value city services. The mayor and council should take that as a sign to invite them to come on in and enjoy some fancy cheese.