The annexation debate during Thursday’s Mobile City Council meeting featured two former city and county politicians, despite the issue not even appearing on the agenda.
A council vote on annexation is not scheduled until next Tuesday, but former County Commissioner and Mayor Sam Jones and former Councilman and Commissioner Steven Nodine both spoke to the members of the body this week.
Jones, a current Democratic state representative, requested and was granted the opportunity to give a 10-minute presentation during a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, Nov. 19 highlighting concerns he has over the numbers being presented by Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office.
What he will be presenting to councilors has not been reported publicly, he said.
“My intent is to provide additional information to be looked at before you do whatever you are going to do,” he said.
Councilman Joel Daves asked Jones to allow Stimpson’s staff to see the presentation before the meeting, in order to let them respond. While Council President Levon Manzie said the request seemed “fair,” Jones pushed back a bit, arguing he was without staff, would have to crunch the numbers all by himself, and was unsure if he could get it done early enough.
As for annexation, Jones said he approves of them, in general.
“I worked for years on annexations,” Jones said.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said this iteration of annexation is a bit different than when Jones was mayor because the 13,000 residents in this proposed area came to the city, not the other way around. Jones told her some of the residents in the previous annexations had come to the city ahead of time as well.
“I look forward to hearing your commentary on this,” Rich said. “I’m happy to hear you find annexation to be positive.”
Nodine, who opposed three previous annexation attempts as a councilor and commissioner, now told members he supports the action because both the city and county stand to benefit financially from the move.
For Nodine, it’s about pride in the city and county.
“I don’t want to be No. 2,” he said. “I don’t want to be Auburn. I want to be No. 1”
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber presented councilors with information related to the amount of federal money at stake with the looming annexation vote.
With the addition of the new geographic area by Jan. 1, 2020, the city would be eligible for as much as $8.5 million in additional federal money over the next three years through a variety of public safety related grants, Barber said.
Currently, the city has a population of 189,000 people, according to a 2018 U.S. Census estimate. With the addition of 13,000 new residents, the city would rise above an important 200,000 population threshold placing it in the mid-sized city designation as it relates to federal grants, Barber said.
Crossing the threshold would make the city eligible for more funding in three police-related grants. One such grant is the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant. According to information from the DOJ provided by Barber, Mobile would go from being able to hire between one and 15 new officers per year to between 15 and 30 using federal money. Those dollars would be good for three years and then the city would have to take over.
Another such grant is the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program. If the city were to cross the 200,000 population threshold, it would be eligible for more than $2 million from the Department of Justice to pay for body camera equipment. Currently, the city is only eligible for $400,000 worth of equipment.
As for stiffer competition resulting from being in a grant pool with cities like Fort Worth, Texas and San Francisco, Barber said he is confident Mobile would have a great chance of being awarded grants it seeks. Specifically, he pointed to the city’s recent success in acquiring federal money through the COPS program. Mobile ranked third out of 1,100 cities in terms of its total score related to the COPS program. Only Chicago and Kansas City scored higher, Barber said.
As he has before, Manzie questioned whether the city could accomplish the same goal of crossing the threshold with a more “robust” effort to make sure every resident is counted in the 2020 Census. He has said that about 30 percent of residents weren’t counted in 2010. Barber said annexation would guarantee crossing the threshold without possibly having to rely on a more accurate count.
Earlier today, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted unanimously to support the annexation push.
The council is expected to vote on whether to allow an annexation referendum at its next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
This story was updated to include comments from Council President Levon Manzie and information from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
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