The Mobile City Council will meet with administration officials amid a plan to roll back city fire coverage in areas of Theodore covered by the police jurisdiction.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration tried to reduce the jurisdiction by half in 2016, but was unsuccessful in courting enough council votes to get it done. At the time, councilors were concerned about the impact such a move would have on the city’s working relationship with the county. This action does not require council approval.
State law requires a municipality to provide police and fire service in the jurisdiction for the amount it takes in for business license fees. The city takes in $2 million in business license fees from the jurisdiction, which only pays half the normal amount, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said.
The city also collects a total of $8 million in sales taxes from the police jurisdiction. Again, residents in the police jurisdiction pay half the normal 5 percent rate in sales tax from businesses there.
In contrast, the city pays a total of $27 million in operating costs across all districts for service in the police jurisdiction, Wesch said. Roughly $17 million of that comes from direct costs to the Mobile Police Department and Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, he said.
Fire Chief Mark Sealy announced in an email message obtained by Lagniappe that coverage in the jurisdiction would change in August.
“Theodore Volunteer Fire Department will begin assuming their fire responses in their area,” he wrote. “Mobile County EMS will assume the [emergency medical service] calls in that area. In the unincorporated areas around Airport Boulevard and west of Schillinger Road, we will maintain fire response responsibilities, but will begin to scale back the response that we send.”
The changes are due, in part, to the cost associated with the service in areas outside the city, but as Sealy explains in the email, part of the change is due to response times.
“The intent of these moves is to focus our resources into the city limits of Mobile and to improve our response reliability within the city limits,” Sealy wrote. “The jurisdiction will see reduced response times as well from other entities who are better positioned to respond.”
Since promoting Sealy to chief of the department, Stimpson has made public his desire to get Mobile to an Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating of 1, which would be among the highest in the nation. Response times are considered as part of a total ISO rating.
Of the 45,000 fire departments in the country, less than 1 percent are at an ISO-1 rating, according to a statement from city spokeswoman Laura Byrne. Mobile currently has a rating of ISO-3.
Byrne wrote that MFRD would “transition” from primary response in the area to “mutual aid” response. The department will also send backup when Theodore requires it.
“MFRD will help prepare Theodore with training and recruiting during the transition period and will continue to provide technical services after the transition period,” the statement reads. “Additionally, MFRD will donate lifesaving equipment to the Theodore Fire Department.”
Many residents outside the city limits and in the Theodore area are already contributing to the TVFD district, Byrne said.
Councilman John Williams, who represents the portion of Theodore within the city limits, said he supported Stimpson’s move and put the onus on state lawmakers.
“I firmly believe we need to get the state Legislature to address police jurisdiction law,” he said. “The city should not provide services to those paying half price when those paying full price are left with less service.”
In other business, the council discussed a $396,000 contract with Stantec Consulting Services for help organizing and implementing initiatives based on the disposal of some city properties. The contract would also help the city’s real estate department with plans for repurposing the Civic Center, Director of Real Estate and Asset Management Brad Christensen said.
The council will delay a vote on the contract until at least next week due to council rules regarding items appearing on the agenda for the first time.
Per council rules, the body also delayed a vote on a $378,000 settlement agreement between the city and Waste Management related to the dumping of yard waste at a non-WM-managed landfill.
Council attorney Wanda Cochran said when the item comes up again it should be discussed in executive session, given that it relates to litigation.
WM won a breach of contract lawsuit in 2015 for roughly $6 million. A jury in the case also dramatically raised the tipping fee WM can charge the city. During the trial, attorneys for WM argued that the entire waste stream, including yard waste and recycling, should go to the WM-managed Chastang Landfill. The city reached the settlement in order to prevent future lawsuits, while continuing to dump yard waste at Dirt Inc.’s landfill for a fraction of the cost.
Although the settlement was listed as a first-read item, the council has delayed previous votes on it at Cochran’s request. It is unclear what is causing the delay.