While the City of Mobile considers potential plans for annexation, some black community members who have lived in the city for decades are saying "no way" as they push for a different kind of change.
PFM Financial Advisors reviewed four proposals for annexation over the past two months. They looked at expenses and likely revenue for each of the plans.
An annexation would allow the city's population to grow, which could mean more federal funds. The four primary goals city leadership hopes to achieve with any annexation plan are preserving a black majority in the city, ensuring the voting age population in four of the seven districts within the city remains majority-minority, bringing the population over 200,000 and ensuring extra revenue.
“PFM’s analysis found all those goals would be accomplished by annexation,” the city stated in a press release. “It confirmed that, even in a scenario with no future growth in the proposed annexation areas, the City of Mobile would bring in more revenue than it would expend providing additional city services in those areas.”
Additionally, the report found that without annexation, the city could continue to lose population and overall revenue. The 139-page report used the city of Birmingham as an example of how this could happen.
“A 2017 study of Birmingham by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) offers a look at Mobile’s potential future absent annexation,” the report stated. “The report examines Birmingham’s diminishing position among the nation’s larger cities, in Jefferson County, and in the multicounty metropolitan area. Specifically, the report notes that from 1960 to 2010, Birmingham’s population declined by 38% while the remainder of Jefferson County grew by 52% and outlying counties increased by 166%. While Birmingham had the largest share of regional population in 1960, 50 years later it had the smallest share of metropolitan population, exceeded by the remainder of Jefferson County and the population of outlying counties … Because the City did not expand its boundaries to incorporate growth in outlying areas, ‘Greater Birmingham spent the past 50 years growing apart: a diminished center city surrounded by a jigsaw puzzle of municipalities.”
The study also noted that most population growth in Mobile County has occurred outside of Mobile city limits for the last six decades.
SEE ALSO: Mobile addressing issues brought up during annexation discussions
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Plan A, which would bring the city's population up to around 213,000, would be the best for all citizens of Mobile, the economy and the metropolitan area, in particular.
“The report shows that so often, the entire economy around the central city builds off of what’s going on in the city,” Stimpson said.
All four annexation plans include properties on the west side of Mobile. If the city council votes to approve one of the plans, the residents in those areas would be able to vote on whether they wanted to be annexed into city limits. Stimpson made a case on how residents could benefit if they choose to be annexed.
“If they shop in the stores of the city of Mobile today, they’re not going to pay any difference in tax,” he explained. “It’s those stores in the study areas, if they shop at those, they will be paying two-and-a-half cents more in sales tax than they do today … In return for that, they’re going to get garbage service, they’re going to get trash removal, but also they’ll be able to share in the capital improvement plan that will then cover their areas.”
Sales tax would be collected after the annexation was complete, but property taxes would not be collected until at least five years after annexation.
Drainage, sidewalks, maintenance and other improvements would be part of those capital plans, along with emergency city services.
Despite the study results and the words of the mayor, some residents continue to speak against any annexation. Betty Shinn addressed the council Tuesday morning saying that making Mobile bigger does not make it better.
“Having a greater population base equates to spending more money, especially on key areas of public safety and public services, which play a key role in governance,” Shinn said. “For historically neglected communities, the black, negro, colored communities in the past, indicates this lag will continue or be made worse with more funding needed for the annex area. Blacks are constantly told to look ahead, forget the past. Potholes, flooding streets, homelessness are not sufficiently addressed as annexation is now the concern for making one Mobile a better place to live.”
Shinn said she wants more transparency and the city to fix problems such as "abandoned houses, overgrown lots, trash and garbage piled up in areas occupied primarily by black and poor people."
Others have voiced concerns over the future of Mobile when it comes to race. They do not want annexation because of the political challenges black voters may face if the annexation is complete.
Robert Battles spoke to the council Tuesday saying the study should have taken into consideration the opinions of the people who live in "rundown" areas. He said he plans to go into the Emerson Gardens community to bring back a report on the issues people are facing there, including rats and stains on the wall.
"The most important thing you can do is listen to the citizens," he said. "...You talk about people act like crabs out in a bucket. Crabs act like they do in a bucket because they are out of their natural habitat .... Focus on the quality of life for African Americans. And by 2025, we will have us an African American mayor plus a majority on the city council."
The analysis includes maps and projected revenue and costs over time for each proposal. Over 10 years, there could be between $135.5 million to $146.6 million in additional revenue and the cost could be between $24.8 million and $26.8 million. The full report is available online.
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