By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore City Council, sitting two members short, approved during the Monday, December 12, council meeting a resolution that will annex into the city a three-mile stretch along Alabama 21, effectively bridging the gap between downtown and Rivercane.
With District 2’s Jerome Webster and District 3’s Eunice Johnson absent due to unspecified conflicts, the other three council members gave a unanimous blessing to the plan, which calls for bringing into the city limits most of the property along the state highway that is currently considered part of the county.
City Attorney Larry Wettermark said the annexation is necessary to promote a healthy economy and strong business and industrial growth.
“It is important to unite these two areas of municipal limits in order to have orderly development,” Wettermark explained. “A city that does not grow with its population and economy is due to have a slow decline in economic growth and potential. [The annexation] increases the city’s potential for growth and for securing grants.”
The attorney pointed out that the impending construction of a new hospital and state prison, along with the motels, hotels and restaurants that already operate near Interstate 65, make the area the “economic anchor” of the city.
The area to be annexed includes roughly the property located west of Alabama 21 and north of Escambia County Middle School, as well as that east of 21 and north of Sunset Drive.
Wettermark added that no residential property would be included in the annexation.
“The thought here is to not force any persons to come into the city without an opportunity to make that decision for themselves,” he said. “The properties to be annexed include vacant land and land with commercial businesses. Most of it is either forestland or agriculture land.”
However, he said, any residential property owner who wishes to be included in the annexation may do so by “simple petition.”
The major difference for annexed businesses will be that those currently inside the city’s former police jurisdiction but not its corporate limits will pay the full 15-mil city property tax and those who now pay half the city’s business tax rate will pay the same rate as those within the city.
Current use of the land to be brought into the city will not be affected but will be “grandfathered in.”
Wettermark also noted that Atmore “will become much more competitive with other cities in Alabama for important economic growth” once the annexation is finalized.
Passage of the resolution doesn’t mean the annexation will be immediate. It was pointed out during the meeting that the proposed annexation map must be furnished to the Escambia County Judge of Probate, that the proposal must be advertised in local newspapers for four weeks, and that the Alabama Legislature must provide final approval to the plan.
State Senator Greg Albritton attended the meeting. He said he anticipates that [the annexation issue] will be addressed during the Legislature’s next regular session, which is set to begin April 10, 2023, and run through June 8.
In other business, the council:
*Approved a resolution allowing city police officers to wear their uniform and gun, and use a city police car, when working off-duty jobs as security for businesses such as Walmart and Coastal Growers. The officers are to be paid $35 per hour for the off-duty work.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks said such a move is “sometimes in the best interest of public safety.”
*Approved a new, 10-year franchise agreement with Mediacom under which the cable company will pay 5 percent of its local revenue to the city each year.