State Sen. Chris Elliott is sponsoring a bill to amend a 43-year-old law extending municipal police and planning jurisdictions beyond city corporate limits.
Currently, police jurisdictions of municipalities with more than 6,000 people extend for three miles beyond their corporate limits while the police jurisdictions of municipalities with fewer than 6,000 people extend for one and one-half miles. Planning jurisdictions of all municipalities extend five miles beyond their corporate limits.
Under Elliott’s proposal, both police and planning jurisdictions would be restricted to municipal boundaries.
“You currently have municipalities exercising authority well beyond their limits,” Elliott said last week. “They are policing, taxing and serving people that can’t vote for them. From a philosophical standpoint it has some problems and from a planning standpoint, subdivision regulations of cities and counties often conflict and the current law states it’s the structure of both that governs. It creates a lot of confusion for regular people just trying to obey laws and ordinances.”
Elliott said he was encouraged by local mayors and city planners to author the bill, while it also was an ongoing discussion during his three years as a Baldwin County commissioner.
“The upside for municipalities is service in those areas is expensive … a lot of the mayors are very pleased with this since they will essentially stop providing that service,” he explained. “Another aspect is that it may encourage annexation. Most [questions I’ve gotten] are interested in how it will be implemented but it’s very simple — you either live in the city or you don’t.”
Recently, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has been leading a very public effort to roll back city services beyond corporate limits. He provided a brief statement in support of the bill.
“Our top priority is the safety of our citizens,” Stimpson said. “We currently expend a significant amount of time and money serving residents of the police jurisdiction. We can improve public safety by redirecting those services to the citizens of Mobile. Whether by state bill, city ordinance or administrative action, we owe it to our citizens to put them first.”
But Elliott also provided a couple of examples from Baldwin County.
“There are areas in the Eastern Shore where you have to get a Silverhill permit and it’s unzoned in the county — it’s incredibly confusing for folks to navigate that,” he said.
Elliott also said while Pirate’s Cove is currently in Orange Beach’s police jurisdiction, answering a call there would take a responding Orange Beach police officer on a 21-mile one-way trip through two other cities. He said in the interest of time, dispatchers know to send sheriff’s deputies to calls in the Cove.
Further, Elliott said Alabama is one of only three states where municipalities serve areas beyond their corporate limits and “our laws are far more problematic.”
“It’s a nightmare to enforce from [the] municipal or county government standpoint,” he said. “And for private citizens, they don’t know which rulebook to follow.”
If the bill is signed into law, it would not take effect until Oct. 1, 2020, “giving everyone plenty of time to adjust budgets and make accommodations,” he said.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said his organization supports the bill, but it’s not a legislative priority this year.
“I always say if you’ve seen one of Alabama’s 67 counties, you’ve seen one of Alabama’s 67 counties,” he said. “They don’t have a lot in common and one of the reasons it hasn’t been a priority is municipalities providing police service in some counties benefits those counties, in other places it’s a huge source of conflict and disagreement. But generally, it generates more unhappy county officials than those who smile about it.”
Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson expressed reservations about the bill.
“We were very surprised,” she said. “Cities are not isolated silos that operate in a vacuum. Many appreciate the benefits of land-use planning within their jurisdictions for managing future development and reducing urban sprawl … I have no idea what additional costs counties would incur to assume public safety responsibilities, but it would be quite substantial.”
Elliott called Hudson’s perspective “a difference in philosophy,” adding he was “confident that this legislation will help advance this discussion.”
On Monday, Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell expressed his opposition, claiming it would cost as much as a $1.5 million loss of revenue “immediately.” He said during the process of interviewing candidates for police chief last year, not one of four candidates expressed an interest in rolling back the police jurisdiction. Burrell asked fellow city councilors to join him in writing and passing a resolution against the bill.
“This is not taxation without representation,” he said. “[People outside city limits] are not paying property tax now, which is what gives you your vote … we can decide for ourselves where we want our city limits to be.”
Elliott said spoke with Burrell more than once about the proposal.
“He is correct in his assertion that gross revenue will be reduced, but there is a corresponding savings associated with not having to provide services outside municipal limits which … would result in a significant cost savings to the city of Fairhope and its citizens if resources were reallocated to meet demand,” Elliott explained.
Meanwhile, Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson is in favor of the rollback, agreeing it could help accomplish her goal of annexing new neighborhoods.
“We have a police jurisdiction that extends three miles from our corporate limits and it’s an enormous area,” she said Tuesday. “We don’t have the staff for it — the statistics, the money we earn doesn’t offset half of what the cost is to do that.
“If you do not have any way to incentivize people coming into the city, then we’re always going to give it away for free,” she continued, comparing the city’s corporate limit map to “camouflage.”
“We have a lot of holes,” she said. “It’s not financially sustainable.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).