Mayor Sam Jones said Wednesday that he isn't giving up on annexing Mobile Regional Airport into the city, despite the apparently fatal announcement by state Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, that he would oppose any such legislation this year.
"We intend to proceed to try to get this legislation passed," Jones said. "While I regret the response I got from Senator Glover, I certainly hope we can talk with him and get him all the facts."
Jones said he hadn't talked to Glover on Wednesday.
Glover said he believed his constituents currently oppose having the city annex the airport, and said he's promised to block any such bill this year. Under legislative rules, any one of Mobile County's four senators can kill a local bill.
The senator, whose district includes much of the western part of the county, including the airport and some parts inside the Mobile city limits, said he believes that his constituents mistrust the city administration. He said he would obey that popular sentiment and urged that Jones take time to allay those fears.
"When the people are behind it, I'm going to be the sponsor of this bill," Glover said Wednesday. "I believe when people hear what the bill is actually about, they're going to be OK with it."
Glover's announcement Tuesday came only hours after Police Chief Phillip Garrett and Deputy Fire-Rescue Chief Billy Pappas made presentations to the City Council on how police and fire stations at Mobile Regional Airport would help improve emergency response times in areas of the city west of Interstate 65, as well as in the three-mile police jurisdiction beyond the city limits.
"It's been difficult for me to kind of decipher what he is saying because what we are proposing here has nothing to do with anything but increasing public safety response for people in the city and the police jurisdiction," Jones said of Glover Wednesday.
"It seems it was simply based on the emotion of people who talked to him, which is real difficult to respond to," Jones continued.
The Mobile Airport Auth- ority's board, appointed by the mayor, had asked last year that lawmakers approve a bill that would put the authority's property west of Schillinger Road into the city limits, without any land connecting it to the current city limits at Cody Road.
Airport officials say such annexation by legislative action is appropriate because no one lives on the airport property. Bay Haas, the authority's executive director, has said a police and fire station at the airport would help attract industries to the airport. He has also said that he wants to avoid the airport being taken in by some other city that might spring up west of Cody Road.
Glover said that Haas and Jones, by pushing too hard now, might spur on the same incorporation advocates they're trying to head off.
"The main thing is, I think they're worried about a new city coming in and taking over the airport, which I don't think is likely unless this thing gets all stirred up," Glover said.
The city has a fire station at the airport now, but fire officials say it's only for responding to plane crashes and other such incidents.
Former Mayor Mike Dow had proposed building some city facilities in the police jurisdiction, but Jones has said he doesn't want to build police and fire stations at the airport if it is not part of the city.
"The reason we can't go out there and do that is we get no revenue to do that, and we take revenue from other areas of the city," Jones said Tuesday.
Though city offices are officially nonpartisan, Jones served for years on the Mobile County Commission as a Democrat. Most of the public officials who have opposed the annexation so far, including Glover and County Commissioners Mike Dean and Stephen Nodine, are Republicans.
"If there's somebody who has a desire to play politics with the mayor, there are a lot of other issues they can play politics with me on," Jones said.
Jones also said the need to increase police and fire protection inside the city limits could lead the city to consider cutting police and fire protection in the jurisdiction.
"We haven't examined that, we don't care to examine that, we would prefer to continue to serve the whole area," Jones said. But he added: "Here at the city, we are obliged to make a decision to protect the citizens."
Businesses in the police jurisdiction pay taxes at half the rates of those inside the city limits. It's not clear how losing such revenue would affect the city, which has a $200 million-plus budget this year.
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