State Senator Chris Elliott has sponsored a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would change the law regarding the ability of municipalities to extend their police and planning jurisdictions beyond their municipal corporate limits.
Under current state law, planning jurisdictions for all municipalities can be extended five miles beyond their corporate limits. Police jurisdictions for municipalities with fewer than 6,000 residents can be extended 1.5 miles beyond the corporate limits and municipalities with more than 6,000 residents can extend their police jurisdiction 3 miles outside corporate limits.
Elliott’s new proposal would restrict municipalities to only being able to control what goes on within their existing corporate limits.
“This came from four years of being a county commissioner and listening to people complain about extraterritorial jurisdictions and police jurisdictions,” Elliott said. “People who live in these areas are frustrated that they are policed, regulated and taxed by people they can’t vote for. People in the municipalities are frustrated because their towns are spending money at a loss in the areas that aren’t actually part of the town. It is patently unfair and if you back to the old adage of ‘No taxation without representation,’ that’s clearly what is happening here.”
Elliott said he’s received strong reception about the bill from his fellow legislators in Montgomery.
“There’s been a good reception, especially from the rural caucus and even some of the larger municipalities,” Elliott said. “The costs for providing service outside municipal limits is high, and I’ve heard horror stories from across the state from other legislators that have had to deal with this issue.”
One place where Elliott hasn’t received a positive reception is here in Baldwin County, where every mayor in the county (except Foley Mayor John Koniar, who was absent) voted at a recent meeting to oppose the bill.
Elberta Mayor Jim Hamby said Elliott’s bill could cause a reduction in the town’s yearly budget of 25 to 30 percent if it passed.
“It would be very difficult for us under those conditions to fund our police department and even our public works department,” Hamby said. “It would also likely affect the sports and recreation facilities we’ve been looking to build. If that funding goes away, it will require us to make a big shift.”
Elliott said he believes the bill will have neutral effect for the municipalities like Elberta.
“This bill is revenue neutral at worst,” Elliott said. “The current statute says money raised in the police jurisdiction is supposed to be spent in the jurisdiction, and if municipalities are gaining revenue, then they are doing so in possible violation of the statute.”
Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood said at a recent Daphne City Council meeting that he felt there was strong opposition to Elliott’s proposed changes.
“13 municipalities present at that meeting wanted to adopt a resolution against that bill,” Haygood said. “The League of Municipalities is against it. I’m not sure how far that bill will really go.”
Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson, who has been supportive of pulling back her city’s police jurisdiction in the past, said she had studied Elliott’s proposal and talked with him about it.
“For our city, the police jurisdiction is a subsidized benefit for those who live outside the city limits,” Wilson said. “The police department spends about half their time in the PJ and our tax revenue generated from it makes up only a quarter of the budget. Not to mention we are not currently staffed to patrol this huge area. As we hire more officers, the tax contribution from the PJ, percentage-wise, diminishes further. It's not financially sustainable. As we grow, there must be incentives in place for people to annex into the city. As the fastest growing city in the state, proper zoning is necessary to ensure smart growth.”
But, Wilson said she could not support Elliott’s bill in its current form.
“While I support abolishing the the police jurisdiction, I absolutely oppose getting rid of the planning jurisdiction,” Wilson said. “The number one concern of our citizens is planned growth. Taking this away when most of our our extraterritorial planning jurisdiction is un-zoned jeopardizes our quality of life.”
Elliott said he’s aware of the concerns from local municipal leaders but said he’s feels comfortable that Baldwin County could take on the added responsibilities.
“It’s important to note that the county has planning authority and the ability to work with these municipalities to help regulate areas,” Elliott said. “Likewise, we have one of the most professional sheriff’s offices around that is willing and able to provide law enforcement services to the area with a savings to taxpayers overall.”
Saving taxpayers’ money has become an increasingly important component of this bill, according to Elliott, as the state legislature grapples with the possibility of an up to 12 cent state gas tax increase.
Elliott said this ETJ bill could be a needed offset to that revenue increase by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to Alabama residents.
“It is a tax cut, essentially - hundreds of millions of dollars for millions of Alabamians,” Elliott said. “It’s one of the largest tax cuts proposed that I’m aware of. The lost revenue from taxpayers is currently going to municipalities that are losing revenue on top of that trying to provide these services. This bill will save taxpayers’ money and save the municipalities trying to provide money for services.”