The Mobile City Council on Tuesday voted against Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposal to shrink the city’s police jurisdiction, despite a possible savings of $1.5 million.
Councilman Fred Richardson and Councilman C.J. Small voted against the proposal, while Council President Gina Gregory, Councilman Joel Daves, Councilwoman Bess Rich and Councilman John Williams voted in favor. Councilman Levon Manzie abstained from the vote. The “no” vote came only after a vote to hold over the decision failed to gain the support of a supermajority, or five of the councilors.
Despite documents produced by city legal staff that would guarantee continued police and fire coverage of the outer 1.5-mile band of the jurisdiction until the county entities can take over, several councilors remained hesitant.
Small said he voted against the reduction because he didn’t want to disturb the city’s working relationship with the county. He acknowledged the change might save the city money, but said it pales in comparison to the funds the county has spent in his district and other areas of the city throughout the years.
After the vote, Rich — who favored a holdover — said she hoped the council could reconsider the item once county officials have had time to review it. Stimpson said he would place the item back on the agenda next week for the council’s consideration.
The state law that allows the city to pull back its jurisdiction lines requires a decision by Oct. 1 in order for changes to go into effect at the beginning of next year.
At a recent meeting of the council’s public safety committee, Rich and Manzie both said they wanted to see the agreements before they voted. On Tuesday, Manzie said he made a mistake after hearing from residents on the issue this week.
“This is a tough issue,” Manzie said. “I’m not as solid as I was on this last week.”
Manzie said he wasn’t yet sure how he’d vote if a vote took place.
City spokesman George Talbot said the administration recognizes concerns some residents have over annexation and has taken it off the table as it relates to this issue. Talbot added that the outer 1.5-mile segment couldn’t be annexed anyway because it’s not contiguous with the current corporate limits.
Stimpson also doesn’t see a need to expand outside the current city limits, Talbot said. Instead, the mayor believes growth can occur by improving the quality of life within the current city limits.
Rich said she wanted to hold over the vote until the county can examine the documents at its next meeting. She said it is important to get the county’s input since the decision would impact it.
“I think there’s a trust level that’s going to be there,” she said. “I don’t understand where the harm is. You’re just communicating. I don’t see the harm.”
The harm, as described by Councilman Joel Daves, would be in a weakening of the city’s negotiating position as the October deadline draws closer.
“We have a deadline of Oct. 1, the county does not have a deadline,” Daves said. “Their interests are different than ours.”
Daves said if he were on the other side of the issue he’d want to delay a vote in order to put the city into a corner and force it to take the county’s terms.
Councilman Fred Richardson said he wanted Sheriff Sam Cochran to agree to the terms of the memorandums before he voted.
By state law, the city is only required to provide service in the police jurisdiction comparable to the amount it brings in through tax revenues in an area. The city only collects half the tax revenue in the outer bands that it collects within the city limits. Paul Wesch, executive director of finance, said the city collects roughly $2 million in tax revenues from an area where Talbot said it provides roughly $20 million in services.
In other business, residents spoke in favor of more funding for various agencies and raises for all city employees during a public hearing on Stimpson’s proposed 2017 budget.
David Rasp, the owner of three local restaurants, asked the council to reconsider the proposed $650,000 cut to the tourism budget for Visit Mobile! He said the city’s restaurant industry depends on out-of-town visitors from local sporting events and conferences promoted by Visit Mobile.
Judi Gulledge, executive director of the Mobile Carnival Museum, said she relies on Visit Mobile! for marketing her establishment and asked for the funding to be restored.
Walter Young asked the council to consider raises for all city employees, including those who work in the public service department as he does. He said employees in that department work with public safety officials to help clean up the city following thunderstorms and hurricanes.
Joseph Bryan D’Angelo, a firefighter and paramedic with Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, asked the council to consider adding paramedics to the list of employees receiving raises through Stimpson’s proposed budget. As it stands now, the budget includes $5,000 across-the-board raises for all sworn Mobile police officers and all firefighters, excluding paramedics, who are at the rank of captain and below.
This story was updated at 9:36 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7 to correct the vote of Councilwoman Bess Rich. She voted in favor of the police jurisdiction reduction.