A Mobile City Council committee has recommended that the full council wait two weeks before voting to shrink the city’s police jurisdiction from three miles to just one and a half miles outside the city limits.
The move to rollback the police jurisdiction has been touted as a way to save the city around $2 million in resources while improving response times for emergency personnel. However, the recommendation was made to allow the city and county to hammer out agreements.
Paul Wesch, executive director of finance, told councilors that over a three-year period the outer one and one-half mile loop of the police jurisdiction accounted for some 10,000 calls for service from the Mobile Police Department and 2,000 calls for service from the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department. He said that equates to roughly 3.3 percent of the total police calls and 4.5 percent of the total fire calls in the city of Mobile.
Given those percentages, Wesch estimated the city was spending roughly $5.6 million annually responding to calls in the outer section of the police jurisdiction. However, if that portion of the police jurisdiction is removed, the city could lose roughly $3.1 million in annual sales tax and business license fee revenue as well.
In addition, Wesch said city would lose close to $300,000 in other, minor revenues. Based on those estimates, a reduction in the police jurisdiction, which was made possible by the legislature this spring, would equate to nearly $2 million in savings for the city.
However, in order for the changes to begin to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017, the council will have to vote to approve the rollback before Oct. 1 — a timeframe set in aforementioned legislation.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said his administration would make agreements with various county agencies to make the transition easier.
For instance, the MPD would gradually rollback its response in that area until the Mobile County Sheriff’s office had sufficient resources, though he said the city could only guarantee that through January of 2018. Sheriff Sam Cochran has already indicated he’d need 26 new deputies to to pick up the slack the plan Stimpson has proposed.
Stimpson also said the city would work on a memorandum of understanding with the county for areas where fire districts don’t overlap city fire coverage. The additional year, Stimpson said, should give the county enough time to secure funding for a new volunteer fire station for Seven Hills, one of the areas affected by the proposed change.
The county would also need to set up special elections to allow residents in the outer band of the police jurisdiction to vote on joining one of the existing fire districts.
Previous, members of the Mobile County Commission have asked the city for more time to consider the impacts the decision would have. In previous discussions, the city had indicated it would charge the county for additional service after Jan. 1, 2017, but Stimpson said the administration changed its mind based on the county’s concerns.
However, Stimpson said he was in favor of the council voting on the item tomorrow at its regularly. Stimpson and Assistant City Attorney Florence Kessler said any agreements with county agencies could still be drawn up after a vote.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, committee chairwoman, said that while she was in favor of reducing the police jurisdiction, it was important for transparency to hold the vote over until the proper documents were drawn up.
Councilman Levon Manzie agreed, saying he’d like to see something in writing. He added that he supported the plan.
“We need to show our citizens exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
Councilman Joel Daves said voting first and then making agreements with the county would put the city in a much better position. In addition, he said, it would help to clarify the city’s position on the issue, which would be in the best interest of residents in the city and county.
The layover means the earliest the council would consider a vote on the change is Tuesday, Sept. 13.