Annexation truce: Mobile, Semmes reach deal on competition for new residents

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 5:51 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The City Council on Tuesday approved what amounts to a truce with Semmes over the competition for new residents.

The agreement allows for a smoother path toward a referendum this summer that could bring nearly 26,000 additional residents into Mobile. Mobile Chief of Staff James Barber told FOX10 News that city leaders have set July 18 as the tentative date for that election, although he added that it has not been finalized.

Under the deal, Semmes will halt efforts to annex properties in the areas that will vote in the upcoming election. Barber said annexations by Semmes forces Mobile to rodo its annexation paperwork.

“Every time there’s an annexation, we have to rewrite the legal descriptions,” he said. “That really requires us to have to go back before council to pass another resolution to call for the election in those areas. And so, you can see where that can be kind of chaotic.”

Added Semmes Mayor Brandon Van Hook, who previously has expressed reservations about Mobile’s annexation plans: “We’re being good neighbors.”

In exchange, the city of Mobile agrees not to oppose efforts by Semmes to annex properties in the city of Mobile’s police jurisdiction, the zone outside city limits where the city provides police and fire protection. Under a law passed by the state Legislature in 2020, a property owner living in one city’s police jurisdiction must get permission from that municipality in order to join another city.

“Personally, as a property owner, I don’t think any property owner should have to go to any other municipality for their permission to join which city they want to be in,” Van Hook said.

The mayor said the memorandum of understanding affects eight properties along Schillinger Road. They are among 250 pending annexation petitions before the Semmes City Council, which already has agreed to take in 30 to 40 additional properties since the start of the year.

Mobile and Semmes are both trying to expand but are taking different approaches. Mobile has lost about 2 percent of its population since 2020 and is hoping to reverse that with four separate referendums in areas that would increase the population by almost 26,000.

Semmes, meanwhile, has increased population by nearly 10 percent. Van Hook said he wants to bring in one property at a time to fill in areas that now are unincorporated.

“I know I’ve used the term many times called Swiss cheese, because you see, you know, a whole bunch of holes that are in our area,” he said. “Our goal, overall, is to fill in those areas.”

Even if all four of the areas targeted by Mobile vote to join the city, it might be a temporary fix. A report commissioned by the City Council projects that after that initial spike of 25,806 new residents, the city’s population would begin to slowly decline again until the next census in 2030. That is because the projected future growth in the newly acquired neighborhoods would not be enough to offset the anticipated losses in the existing city.

But city officials said that is not ordained.

“We hope that with our continuing growth of jobs in the area and our continuing, continual improvement of services, we’ll stop any decline that has been happening,” District 4 Councilman Ben Reynolds said.

Barber pointed to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.

“You’ve also seen many programs that the mayor has launched to really develop within the city, as well as bringing affordable infill housing in the city,” he said. “So we’re hoping to stay that and then reverse that trend of decreasing population.”

If the annexation vote fails, it could set off a competition between Mobile and Semmes, property by property, in areas where their police jurisdictions touch.

Reynolds said he does not know what the next step is if annexation fails to pass, but he added that he is confidence it will pass.

“Well, as confident as someone can be on an election,” he said.