On a Friday evening in late September, Pastor Henry A. Crawford and a handful of black residents who live just a few miles south of downtown Fairhope met at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ to talk about race issues and inclusion in the city.
Crawford named a handful of reasons why residents who live near the church — on South Ingleside Street just outside Fairhope’s corporate limits — should seek to be annexed into the city. The first and most important reason is representation on the Fairhope City Council, Crawford said.
“Right now the people who live outside Fairhope’s city limits are being taxed without representation,” Crawford said. “The way the voting districts are drawn it is nearly impossible for someone from this community to be elected.”
“Numbers are louder than anything else,” the pastor said. “We can complain all we want but without an advocate, without a voice downtown, nothing will ever get done.”
At first glance, Fairhope’s jagged southern city-limit line could be interpreted as so-called “municipal underbounding,” a practice in which cities draw boundaries to avoid inclusion of low-income or minority neighborhoods. However, the city has made an effort to include the neighborhood before, but residents don’t seem interested.
“Some people don’t want to come into the city for a variety of reasons,” Planning Director Jonathan Smith said. “Some think additional city regulations will not allow them to do some of the things they did before, and I think others may be afraid of additional taxes.”
(Cartography by Thomas Strange/corporate limits data courtesy of Baldwin County/block group data courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau) This map depicts municipal corporate limits on top of 2013 U.S. Census block group demographic data. Fairhope, which is 91 percent white, according to 2013 census estimates, has not incorporated majority black neighborhoods along its jagged southern limits, while it has incorporated isolated, majority white neighborhoods in the same block group. To its north, the same issue exists in Daphne, which is more than 11 percent black citywide. There, the City Council is engaged in a conversation about incorporating historically black neighborhoods just outside its city limits.
Those who live in the city limits pay additional ad valorem taxes and aren’t allowed to keep motorhomes or livestock in their front yards, but Smith said what they would lose would pale in comparison to what they would gain in services and representation. The additional tax would equal about $150 to $200 more per year on a typical home, but Smith said garbage and water fees would be lower each month.
“They would pay that additional tax, but I’ve told property owners before that our city services are less expensive if you live in the city, so they would actually save some money by annexing in, and they would be able to vote in city elections,” Smith said. “We have gone around to some of the communities and tried to convince them that coming into the city limit is a good thing.”
Mayor Tim Kant said many of the homes in the area south of the city are inherited property, land owned by people who are related to a common ancestor who died without a will. In some cases, land may have been passed down through generations without records indicating who holds the deed.
In addition to access to elections, Kant said residents inside the city limit have protections through the city’s zoning regulations.
“Right now, they have no zoning rights,” he said. “In the city, if someone wants to build a shop or something next door to them, there would be a public hearing and the residents would have some say with what goes in there.”
The city has three annexation options, which include annexation through the request of property owners, annexation through voter referendum or annexation by state legislation. However, the city won’t force annexation on unwilling property owners, Smith said.
In recent years, the only property the city annexed through legislation is the Wal-Mart property on County Road 48, which was approved by the Legislature in 2013. The retail giant’s store was constructed in 2007 across the street from the city’s corporate limits. The city has fought Wal-Mart over annexation since that time to bring in additional tax revenue.
Henry L. Crawford, the pastor at Good Samaritan Sanctuary on Twin Beech Road, said it is more complicated than just burdensome regulations. Residents don’t trust the city because there isn’t a black person on the City Council, and there hasn’t been. But there never will be, he conceded, unless black people are brought into the city through annexation.
“They need to be able to vote in city elections and elect representatives who can actually represent this community on the City Council,” he said.
Johnny Chaney lives on Mershon Street, just inside the city limits. Chaney said distrust is at the heart of the anti-annexation mood and part of it stems from a perceived lack of attention from the city on drainage and flooding problems in black neighborhoods.
“People here are skeptical about being annexed into the city because they don’t trust the city,” Chaney said. “Why don’t we don’t have good drainage when everybody else does?”
In June, the city began the process of applying for a Community Development Block Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) it hopes will fund drainage projects in some of the city’s low to moderate income areas. If approved, the grant would provide $64,000 per year for five years, for a total of $320,000, with no city match.
The city has partnered with the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission to secure the funding. Part of the process is a survey intended to gather information about income levels and needs near the edge of the city’s corporate limits.
Per HUD regulations, the funding is only available for neighborhoods inside the city limits, so, Smith said, the city is trying to determine how to use the money to benefit low-income residents outside the limit.
“I know the mayor and I and the city would love to be able to clean up our boundary lines to benefit as many people as we can,” Smith said.
This is part of a series of stories examining race data in Mobile and Baldwin counties, for more, visit lagniappemobile.com/series/DiverseCity.
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