A day after Sheriff Sam Cochran criticized the Mobile City Council for its supermajority rule, members used that very rule to defeat an ordinance to remove remaining city services from within the three-mile police jurisdiction.
For months, the council had debated whether or not to pull services back to within the city limits, after Councilman Joel Daves introduced the measure after a vote to allow an annexation referendum failed. At a meeting Thursday afternoon, Councilwoman Bess Rich, chair of the council’s public safety committee, asked for a vote on the item to be delayed until April 21 and called for a committee meeting.
The vote on Thursday to hold over the ordinance failed 4-2 in favor of the dalay. The council, which was missing President Levon Manzie due to physical rehabilitation following a medical procedure, could not get a five-vote majority to agree.
“I’m against it,” Council Vice President C.J. Small said. “Why are we spending $19 million in the police jurisdiction if the sheriff needs $4.8 million to police it? With the tax money we take in, it seems we should come out ahead.”
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration has previously claimed the city spends $26 million on police and fire calls in the area, but that’s not a pure cash figure. The $26 million figure refers to the number of resources used to make it to the various calls within the jurisdiction and then back into the city limits. The sheriff’s office also does not respond to traffic accidents and relies on Alabama State Troopers to answer those calls.
County officials, including Finance Director Dana Foster-Allen, disagreed with the administration’s assessment. Using her own numbers, which she presented to a council committee, Foster-Allen said the city spends $1.7 million more on resources in the jurisdiction than the roughly $12 million it takes in through business license fees and taxes in the area.
The reason for the vast difference in amounts is city officials calculated the percentage of calls and took the number from an equal percentage of the budget, including administrative costs. The county looked at call volume and didn’t add in administrative costs.
Councilman Fred Richardson called the police jurisdiction rollback an “annexation strategy.” As for the amount of money spent in the jurisdiction, Richardson reminded his colleagues the city is only legally required to spend the same amount in resources as the $2.1 million it brings in from business license fees collected out there.
“We don’t have to spend a dime more than we collect,” Richardson said. “We took our own gun and shot ourselves in the leg. It’s our own fault.”
Administration officials have previously told the council some 44 officers work beats outside the city limits due to the volume of calls. The city had set up the beats prior to Stimpson taking office, officials said.
Rich pleaded with Small and Richardson to reconsider their dissenting votes on the issue.
“This is almost the complete opposite of building a consensus,” Rich said. “We need all the information possible.”
Regardless of the exact numbers, Daves, the sponsor of the police jurisdiction rollback legislation, said the city spends more out there than it takes in. While residents in the jurisdiction aren’t Mobile citizens, residents of the city pay county taxes.
“Forty-five percent of the revenues of the county are provided by the city,” Daves said. “Even if the city stopped providing police and fire, citizens would still provide half of the county’s revenue, in addition to the $24 million we’re currently providing as a subsidy. If the county took over we’re still providing half of the funding for the services.”
After the attempt to delay the vote failed, councilors defeated an amendment proposed by Daves that would remove all taxation from the jurisdiction while removing the services. It failed on a 3-1 vote with Rich and Small abstaining.
After the amendment failed, councilors defeated the rollback by a vote of 3 to 2 in favor, with Rich again abstaining.
Councilman John Williams called the series of votes and results “political.” He added he supported the council’s supermajority rule and hoped it stayed in place.
“This is not about facts,” he said. “It’s about politics across the board. This is not going to pass today. It’s going to fail because of a good piece of legislation that requires five votes no matter how many of us are here.”
Small said he’s willing to hear debate on the issue following the results of the 2020 Census to determine how many residents actually live in the jurisdiction. Administration officials have said the number could be around 70,000.
Small said he voted to kill the police jurisdiction rollback for now to allow residents of West Mobile a “cooling off” period.
The ad-hoc committee assigned to debate the topic is still scheduled to meet on Tuesday, March 17 at 3 p.m.
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