Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office is planning to once again push for annexation, this time as a remedy to the ongoing debate over pulling back police and fire services from residents within a three-mile police jurisdiction outside of the city limits.
The Mobile City Council delayed a vote on the issue until at least next month, giving Public Safety Director James Barber a chance to present what he called a four-part plan that he believes has the support of Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran.
The plan calls first for the annexation of 13,000 residents of an unincorporated portion of West Mobile. The following phases would see city police and fire services end in the outer one-and-a-half-mile portion of the jurisdiction, while the city and county would work together to help residents in the unserved areas create fire districts.
“This is a way to transition the area away from city services that doesn’t put anyone at risk,” Barber said.
Cochran sharply opposed the city’s plan to pull services from the jurisdiction during a council committee meeting on the subject earlier this month. At the meeting, he warned councilors he would hire away most of the 44 officers working in the jurisdiction in order to bring on enough deputies to police the area. He argued the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) already receives a lot of its new deputies from the Mobile Police Department (MPD) because they pay $500 per month more on average.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who was one of three councilors to oppose the last annexation vote, criticized the city for already removing fire service from residents in Theodore. He called the move “illegal.”
Barber argued there is no state law against such a move and the city ordinance that applies to fire service in the jurisdiction doesn’t require the city to have primary call responsibility in areas like Theodore where a fire jurisdiction or district already exists. The city does backup the area when needed, he said.
Pressed by Richardson, Council attorney Wanda Cochran said the issue is “fraught” because the law pertaining to the fire districts is unsettled. She confirmed state law does require the city to spend for services within the jurisdiction what it takes in in business license fees in the unincorporated area, but it applies to the entire jurisdiction as a whole, not individual areas.
At one point during the discussion at the council’s pre-conference meeting, Councilman John Williams interrupted Richardson and asked him how long he was going to talk.
“You spend an inordinate amount of time on each subject,” Williams told Richardson.
Richardson countered by accusing Williams of simply not liking what he was saying.
“[Councilwoman] Bess [Rich] talked way more than I did, but she was saying what you wanted to hear,” he said.
Annexation also came up during a debate over traffic enforcement at the pre-conference meeting. The debate came up after it was announced that residents Michael Gewin and David Chaillot were set to speak about speeding drivers and drivers who run red lights.
During the discussion, Mayor Sandy Stimpson pushed back at the notion councilors were unable to address it because it was an administrative issue. Stimpson mentioned the previous failed annexation vote and told them if five members had voted to annex those 13,000 residents into the city, there would be an additional $2 million to $5 million per year and several federal grant options available to hire up to 45 new officers. Annexation would also allow the city to move many of the 44 officers working beats within the police jurisdiction back within the city limits.
Richardson told Stimpson MPD officials used money saved within the department on raises rather than on hiring new officers. At this, Stimpson told Richardson he was “confused” and Richardson countered.
“You want me to be confused,” Richardson said.
In his comments to councilors, Gewin asked for a focus on more traffic patrol and accused drivers in the city of having a “cavalier attitude” when it comes to obeying traffic laws.
Barber voiced his support for “red light cameras” at city intersections to help prevent drivers from running red lights. The city’s previous attempts to use cameras at intersections had been foiled by the state legislature, but Barber said the administration was studying Montgomery, which now has cameras through a local ordinance.
Chaillot complained about traffic on Airport Boulevard and other busy Mobile thoroughfares like Dauphin Street, Old Shell Road and Springhill Avenue. Councilman Joel Daves praised the signalization improvements on Airport in his district from Sage Avenue to the Pinebrook Shopping Center.
Daves said he was skeptical at first that the new technology would prove beneficial, but it has made traffic flow better between those two points.
Executive Director of Public Works Jim DeLapp told councilors more of the new systems will be installed in lights on other busy streets, including Government and Dauphin, within the next three years.
The council voted to approve a vacation of a portion of Richardson Drive to allow residents of the Rosswood Subdivision to close off one point of access into their neighborhood. In this case, all 65 residents approved of the move, Rosswood Homeowners Association President Kip Sharpe said.
The council passed the vacation after a public hearing, despite Richardson’s wishes it go to a committee to be discussed further.
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