By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The City of Atmore’s plan to annex a three-mile stretch along Alabama 21 into the city, thereby bridging the gap between downtown and Rivercane, is expected to pass through the Alabama Legislature with little or no problem.
The area to be annexed includes all the commercial, agricultural and forest land located west of Alabama 21 and north of Escambia County Middle School, as well as that east of 21 and north of Sunset Drive.
No residential property is included in the annexation, although any residential property owner who wishes to be included may do so by “simple petition.”
Mayor Jim Staff said he hasn’t received any complaints about the proposal, approved by a 3-0 vote of the city council on December 12, especially in the light of the elimination of the police jurisdiction (PJ) that had provided police and fire services to those who lived there.
“I talked with every business out there [that will come under the city umbrella],” Staff said. “After I explained about the PJ going away, didn’t any of them have a problem with it. I can’t see any drawbacks with it at all.”
City Attorney Larry Wettermark told the council during the December 12 meeting the annexation is a necessary component of any plan to promote a healthy economy and strong business and industrial growth within the city.
“A city that does not grow with its population and economy is due to have a slow decline in economic growth and potential,” the attorney said. “The properties to be annexed include vacant land and land with commercial businesses. Most of it is either forestland or agriculture land.”
Staff said the city would count on the enlarged city limits to spur that economic growth.
“We’re not trying to take anything away from anybody,” the mayor said. “We’re trying to promote the city. If you’re not growing, you’re going backward.”
Heads of the city’s top two public safety agencies agreed expansion of the city limits would have no negative effects on their respective agency’s response to residences that will not be included in the expropriation plan.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks said the degree of cooperation enjoyed by his agency, Poarch Creek Indians PD and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office will make sure those who live along Alabama 21 will be protected.
“We all work together,” Brooks said. “We all basically cover the same area anyway. There will be no lapse in service after the annexation.”
Fire Chief Ron Peebles said his agency would continue to respond, when needed, to any residence or business along the state highway, no matter who’s coverage district it’s in.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve always done,” Peebles said. “They might be in Poarch’s district or somebody else’s district, but we’ll respond when and where we’re needed, just like we always have. I don’t see any problem.”
Business entities that will be annexed 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.
The annexation map has been furnished to the Escambia County Judge of Probate, and the city has advertised its intent in local newspapers. Now the plan has to gain the approval of state lawmakers.
State Sen. Greg Albritton told the mayor and council he would introduce it during the body’s upcoming session, which is set to begin April 10 and run through June 8, and Staff said getting legislative approval should be the least of the city’s problems.
“They’ve all been talked to about it,” Staff said of Albritton, State Rep. Alan Baker and even U.S. Sen. Katie Britt. “They’ve all said they were OK with it, so I don’t foresee any problems at all.”
Once the legislative bodies give their approval, and Gov. Kay Ivey signs the action into law, the annexation plan will go into effect “on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.”