The Decatur City Council must vote before the end of the year on adjusting its police jurisdiction to accommodate an annexation, and a majority of council members said they had no interest in eliminating the city's long-debated jurisdiction that extends beyond city limits.
City Attorney Herman Marks told the council at its Monday work session that updating the PJ boundaries by ordinance at next week's meeting will require unanimous consent to consider the action and a vote to approve it. There’s a Dec. 31 deadline to meet state law, he said.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the only required shift of the PJ this year resulted from the addition of 91 acres for the planned River Road Estates subdivision of Charles Morris and David Morris off Old River Road near Priceville.
The police jurisdiction is a 1½-mile area outside of the city limits in which the city provides law enforcement, fire protection and enforces building regulations.
Alexander said Decatur's other newly annexed areas are adjacent to neighboring towns or counties so those additions didn't require the PJ to change. Limestone County doesn’t allow a police jurisdiction.
Marks said the city did not have any areas annex into the city last year that required a change to the police jurisdiction.
The police jurisdiction has been controversial for years, especially when the council approved a tax in 2015.
Former Councilman Charles Kirby fought to eliminate the police jurisdiction from the time he was appointed to the City Council in November 2011 until his final term ended last month. He introduced multiple resolutions aimed at the PJ.
Some residents in the police jurisdiction fought the PJ because they do not have a say on taxation and they cannot vote in municipal elections. The PJ has also been controversial in other cities in Alabama. The state Legislature in 2016 gave cities the authority to reduce police jurisdictions from 3 to 1½ miles.
The City Council passed a 2% sales and use tax in the police jurisdiction that went into effect in April 2015.
The city collected $2.76 million from the PJ in fiscal 2018, and about $2.8 million in fiscal 2019. The amount wasn’t available for fiscal 2020. Police jurisdiction revenues come from a sales and use tax, a rental tax, a lodging tax, business licenses, building permits and a room occupancy tax.
“I looked at it before the election and we probably take in $3 million now, so that's too much for the city to lose,” said Councilman Hunter Pepper, who defeated Kirby in the August municipal election.
Councilman Billy Jackson said just because Kirby is no longer a councilman doesn’t mean the PJ doesn’t deserve a discussion.
“My position has changed over the years and we really need to talk about whether the police jurisdiction should continue,” Jackson said. “Just because one councilman is gone doesn’t mean it’s not a good discussion to have.”
However, Council President Jacob Ladner, Councilman Kyle Pike and Pepper said they aren’t willing to consider making a change. Councilman Carlton McMasters was absent from Monday's meeting.
Ladner said some of the industries along the Tennessee River and in the police jurisdiction “move here because of the city’s fire protection.”
Pepper said the PJ residents also like the police protection they get in addition to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office protection.