Mobile County’s smallest municipality may be on the path to dissolution after 143 residents of Creola successfully petitioned the probate court to begin annexation proceedings into the city of Saraland. If the Saraland City Council passes a willingness ordinance before Oct. 28, Creola has been ordered by the court to hold an election within the next three months to determine the fate of their city, population 2,002.
Mayor Paul Nelson, who unsealed an affidavit at a City Council meeting Sept. 26, said he suspect a group of residents would petition the court after the City Council denied to hold an election less than one month ago.
“There has been a group of citizens actively promoting an annexation vote for some time,” he said. “When three out of five council members voted against it, they turned right around and petitioned the probate court.”
The citizens needed only 10 percent of the city’s 449 registered voters to sign the petition, but they were able to collect 126 signatures.
“I think that speaks volumes,” Nelson said. “They want an election so they’ll get one.”
Saraland Mayor Dr. Howard Rubenstein said his city has already studied annexing Creola and it was likely that the Saraland City Council would adopt a willingness ordinance within the required time frame.
“We have a full time Fire Department and EMT coverage 24/7, but probably one of the biggest draws for the people of Creola would be our school system,” Rubenstein said.
Saraland broke away from the Mobile County Public School System in 2006 and has since constructed a new high school and new elementary school and invested about $2 million in an existing intermediate school. Creola has about 300 students, Rubenstein said, a number that could be readily absorbed into Saraland’s school system with a few strategic changes.
“We looked hard at that and asked for analysis from our superintendent and he’s looked at the numbers and said in nine months and with a little additional infrastructure the system would be able to accommodate that increase,” he said.
Creola also generates about $1.2 million in tax revenue annually, Nelson said, but he estimated “90 percent” of its residents shop in Saraland, yet do not benefit from any of that city’s tax revenue.
“I think they are looking at it as an opportunity to get a little more back,” he said. “To get what they are paying for. When Saraland opened it’s own schools, some of the students from Creola were moved to other schools in the county. Some high school kids have to go to Citronelle, which is about 40 to 45 minutes away. Personally I wouldn’t want to put my child on a bus on Celeste Road for that amount of time every day of the week.”
Nelson said there had been previous efforts by the city of Satsuma to annex Creola, which is what prompted the effort by both Saraland and Creola at looking for a mutual agreement. While Satsuma is closer to Creola as the crow flies, Saraland has been active with other annexations and within the past few years, has developed contiguous boundary lines with Creola.
Probate Judge Don Davis said state law requires annexed areas to be adjoining, and Saraland has only recently met that requirement.
Rubenstein said Saraland’s City Council is elected at-large, so theoretically an annexed Creola won’t have a single designated council representative, it will have five, just like the rest of Saraland.
A simple 50 percent-plus one majority of Creola residents will have to vote to approve the annexation for it to pass. Nelson said he was happy the residents would have an opportunity, even if it leaves him out of a job.
“I’m retired and have a bunch of grandkids and basically do this as a public service,” he said. “I’ve always been in favor of what’s best for the community and if that means there won’t be a Creola anymore, well, so be it.”