EXPANDING CITY LIMITS
Airport asks to join Mobile
Authority votes to seek annexation, which is likely to be approved by City Council
By JEFF AMY
Mobile's city limits could soon stretch west to Snow Road after the Mobile Airport Authority voted Monday to ask the city to annex the Mobile Regional Airport.
Because the authority owns the property, the City Council can approve the request without an election or state legislation.
"Mobile Regional Airport will be in Mobile," said Richard Davis, the authority's chairman, after the 5-0 vote.
The annexation became possible when a group of west Mobile residents voted Sept. 18 to enter the city, making the city limits touch airport property.
Voters in three other areas rejected annexation that day.
The authority had wanted to come into the city before that and pushed unsuccessful state legislation earlier this year to annex its 1,616 acres, even though it wouldn't have touched any other part of Mobile.
Authority members said they believe entering the city would enhance police and fire protection, as well as provide more city help in locating industry on airport land.
"We believe that it's going to help the airport," Davis said.
Purchases made on airport property would be subject to 9 percent sales tax, instead of the current 7.5 percent.
Tax rates on car rentals would rise by 2.75 percent, city officials said. City officials estimate car rental taxes would increase by about $500, 000. Estimates for other taxes were not available Monday.
The authority will file its request with the city clerk after maps and legal descriptions are completed. It's not clear when that will happen.
"It's under way, so I don't think it will take very long," said authority lawyer E.B. Peebles III.
City Council President Reggie Copeland said he expected the council would approve the request. "I'm all for that," he said. "They need to be in with us."
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones has also supported annexation.
The city announced plans after the Sept. 18 vote to build a police and fire station on authority property just west of Airport Boulevard and Schillinger Road.
The annexation would push the city's 3-mile police jurisdiction and 5-mile planning jurisdiction farther west. Mobile police would respond in all of Seven Hills, plus areas around Allentown Elementary School and areas along Novatan Road.
Because those areas are in fire districts, protected from encroachment by state law, volunteer fire departments would keep answering calls there, instead of the city's Fire-Rescue Department.
The planning jurisdiction would extend as far west as Newman Road and Airport Boulevard, as well as taking in a sliver of territory west of Big Creek Lake. At its westernmost extent, the planning jurisdiction would reach to within about five miles of the Mississippi state line.
Both of those jurisdictions had been extended by the Sept. 18 annexation.
Businesses and property owners in the area that entered the city after the Sept. 18 vote will not pay full license taxes or additional property taxes for five years, though sales taxes rose Nov. 1.
Businesses at the airport would immediately face full city taxes. The authority owns the land and doesn't pay property taxes, but businesses could have to pay equipment property taxes.
Several businesses contacted Monday said they are all for annexation.
"It's going to cost us a few more dollars but it's good for the city, so we're all for it," said Chris Naman, owner of Naman's Meat Co.
A spokeswoman for the Hudson Group, which runs a store and restaurant in the airport terminal, said the New Jersey company's relationship with Mobile Regional has been good.
"We just love Mobile, so we're happy to comply with whatever new requirements are made of us," Laura Samuels said.
Members of the authority's board are appointed by Mayor Sam Jones. One of them, Matt Metcalfe, led the effort to raise money to support the four Sept. 18 elections. The authority runs Brookley Field in addition to Mobile Regional Airport.
Mayor says he hopes to talk to state Sen. Glover, who has expressed deal-killing opposition to city's proposal.
Annexing the 1,100-acre aviation facility means the city will benefit from additional tax revenue.
Neighboring businesses claim that Indianapolis International Airport's land policies and its tax-exempt status are placing an unfair burden on the community.
Annexing the airport would expand the possibility of expanding the city's boundaries westward. Bringing the airport inside the city would also provide a slight increase in occupational tax revenue.