Mobile mayor releases four annexation maps, population would exceed 200,000
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration on Wednesday publicly unveiled his long-awaited annexation proposal, offering up four separate options for bringing new residents into the city.
Each version, if approved by all of the residents in the targeted neighborhoods, would boost the population beyond 200,000 and make the Mobile the state’s second-most populous city behind Huntsville.
Mobile has experienced a long-term population slide, including a 4 percent drop from 2013 to last year. James Barber, the mayor’s chief of staff, told reporters that countering that population loss is critical to stabilizing its long-term finances.
“You know, one time, the city of Mobile was the second-largest city in the state of Alabama,” he said. “And we really declined in population since the 1960s, despite some of the previous annexation efforts that have been done. And so, it’s really important that we grow the city, come back to the second-largest city in Alabama.”
This is Stimpson’s second stab at annexation. The council rejected a previous proposal in 2019.
The four maps generated by the administration now will go to PFM Group, a firm hired by the City Council this month to verify the annexation data. Barber said the process will take about six weeks, after which the council would have to agree on one of the options and then set elections for various neighborhoods to vote on whether or not to join the city.
The largest option contemplates annexation of Kings Branch Estates north of Bear Fork Road, which was one of the areas Stimpson proposed annexing in 2019; a neighborhood north of Zeigler Boulevard that rejected an annexation bid during previous Mayor Sam Jones’ tenure; a small area surrounded by city territory on all sides that also voted “no” when Jones was mayor; and a large swath of land south of Mobile Regional Airport and west of Cody Road.
It includes 26,091 residents and would bring the total population to 213,132 It would reduce the black population from 52 percent to 50 percent.
The other options are:
- Option B. 19,592 residents, which would increase the overall population to 206,633 and reduce the black population to 50.9 percent.
- Option C. 18,068 residents, which would increase the overall population to 205,109 and reduce the black population to 51.1 percent.
- Option D. 16,738 residents, which would increase the overall population to 203,779 and reduce the black population to 51.4 percent.
One homeowner and concerned citizen, Freddy Wheeler--secretary of the West Mobile Annexation Committee--said he worried his area may lose fire rescue protection if not annexed into city limits.
“The level of service though may not reach or achieve the level that we would get from the city,” said Wheeler. “We would be forced to essentially either develop our own fire district and have our own volunteer fire department or try to potentially seek annexation from another city, say Semmes.”
District 6 Councilman Scott Jones, a vocal annexation proponent, told FOX10 News that he is excited to see the long-discussed topic move to another gear. At Tuesday’s council meeting, he called on the mayor to release the maps.
“It’s a hug stop forward in a positive way,” he said. “Because now we can have an open discussion.”
Freddy Wheeler, co-chairman of the West Mobile Annexation Committee, said he wanted to wait until after a Wednesday afternoon meeting with the mayor’s staff before commenting.
Annexation must win the support of five of the city’s seven council members. Jones said he favors one of the first two options, which would provide for the biggest population gain. But some council members have expressed concern about diluting Mobile’s black population at the very time it has become a majority.
Barber said each of the plans the administration has developed would preserve that majority. And city spokeswoman Candace Cooksey said the suburban areas west of the city are diversifying rapidly as African-Americans migrate west.
District 2 Councilman William Carroll, who has voiced concerns about “dilution” of the black vote, was noncommittal Wednesday but credited the administration’s efforts.
“With the maps that have been given, it appears as if, though, the administration has at least heard some of the concerns that are coming from the constituency base,” he said.
Carroll declined to state a preference for one proposal over another, adding that he wants first to get feedback from his constituents. He said it’s possible the council may opt for some combination of the four maps.
“It’s a starting point and, really, I don’t know where we might end up,” he said.
If approved by the council and the voters in those neighborhoods, the city would be able to collect the full city sales tax rate and business license fees. Currently, Mobile gets half those rates from businesses in the three-mile police jurisdiction surrounding the city. Then in year six, the city would start collecting its seven-mill property tax on the newly annexed areas. That is the equivalent of $70 on a home worth $100,000.
Barber said the city would incur some additional costs, such as providing emergency medical services and trash and garbage collections. But he said the city already is spending millions of dollars to provide police and fire service to those residents. He said he is condiment the city will collect more in tax revenue than it provides in services even before the property taxes kick in.
“Because the major expense of the city is already being provided in this area, which is fire and police. So we’d be adding garbage and adding trash,” he said.
The “worst-case” scenario, Barber said, would be for the city to do nothing while residents in west Mobile and Theodore form new cities. That almost certainly would happen if a bill in the Legislature passes that would eliminate police jurisdictions and leave those tens of thousands of residents without fire and police service.
“If that happens, then city of Mobile becomes completely landlocked, just like the city of Birmingham is. … If the areas outside of the city incorporate, we would lose some of the revenues that we currently receive from there,” he said. “And that would be a direct negative impact public safety and our general fund budget.”
Updated at 5:37 p.m. to include comments from Councilman William Carroll.
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