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Small towns deal with missed deadlines, consequences of police jurisdiction law

It was almost a year ago Parrish Mayor Jared Cagle realized his small town in Walker County had a big problem.

Like hundreds of other Alabama municipalities, Parrish has a police jurisdiction, those one-and-a-half mile or three-mile borders around corporate limits. Municipalities can collect reduced taxes and fees within them in exchange for city services like police and fire protection and garbage pickup.

Starting in March of 2022, a new state law required cities to report annually the fee and tax revenue collected within the police jurisdictions and the services provided. They were given 12 months to provide those reports.

Parrish was one of 127 towns that did not comply, according to the Examiners of Public Accounts, and, per the law, had to stop collecting revenue within the district.

“We didn’t receive any communication about it, we didn’t know anything about it,” Cagle recently said. “How I found out about it was from y’all, Alabama Daily News.” 

He said he saw an article about the non-compliant cities one morning last April.

“I clicked on it, I thought we were going to be one of the good ones,” he said.

“… I was distraught.” 

Not being able to collect taxes in the police jurisdiction means a loss of about $120,000 a year for the town of less than 1,000 people. That’s more than a tenth of the town’s annual budget, the mayor said.

There is now a bill in the Legislature that would allow Parrish and the others to resume collecting taxes in their police jurisdictions if they comply with the 2021 law. It has the support of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

But it’s not likely to advance this session.

“My intention has always been to reign in police jurisdictions,” Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, told ADN recently. He sponsored the reporting bill “And I think that is exactly what the legislation we passed in 2021 is doing.

“I do not anticipate making any changes whatsoever.” 

House Bill 185 by Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, and Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, has been pending in the House County and Municipal Government Committee since February. The chair of the committee has no plans to vote on it.

Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Pike Road, sponsored Elliott’s 2021 bill in the House.

Alabama is one of a few states that allow police jurisdictions and Ingram called them taxation without representation. Those who live in them can’t vote for leadership in the towns and cities they pay taxes to.

“(Cities) knew this was coming,” Ingram said about the 2021 law and deadlines. “Many of them were in denial.” 

Estes sponsored a similar bill in 2023 to let those communities collect in police jurisdictions. It did not advance.

“We went through this last year with another sponsor and it sat in the basket and this one is going to sit in the basket,” Ingram said.

Elliott said he understands Wadsworth and Estes are looking out for towns in their districts. But the goal of the 2021 law was to make sure communities were compliant with existing state law that required money raised through taxes and fees in the police jurisdiction be spent in the police jurisdiction for the benefit of the people who were paying the taxes and fees. 

“But these communities are asking to be allowed to continue of tax, police regulate outside of their municipal limits when they can’t file a simple two-page form and there are some towns that need to focus on what they’ve got going on within their borders before they stretch out beyond them because they’re not able to follow some pretty basic requirements under the law.”

Nearly 200 cities and towns did comply with the new law. Those that didn’t represent nearly one-quarter of Alabama municipalities. Most are small and rural.

Wadsworth said he’s trying to make things equal among municipalities. Now, some can collect and 127 cannot. It’s up to those municipalities whether they keep servicing the border areas.

“And generally, the ones that cannot are still providing services in those police jurisdictions and they need funds in order to do that,” Wadsworth said. 

Estes’ hometown of Winfield failed to comply. He admits they missed the deadline. Now, his concern is whether local police will respond to emergencies. In rural counties, sheriff’s departments have limited staff, he said.

“That’s my concern beyond the revenue that’s been lost, the public safety,” he said.

The town of Hackleburg, which also missed the deadline, is also in Estes’ district.

“We never denied that we missed the deadline — we did, we missed it,” Mayor Darryl Colburn told Alabama Daily News. “But we felt like this punishment was too harsh.”

Not collecting in the former police jurisdiction will cost the Marion County town about $40,000 to $50,000 per year, he said. 

“It’s a burden, for sure,” Colburn said. Municipalities that can’t collect revenues get to decide if they’ll eliminate their police jurisdictions altogether.

Hackleburg police no longer write traffic tickets in the area, but they will respond to a major incident, he said.

“We’ll still do the right thing,” Colburn said.

Parrish is still providing garage and police services in the jurisdiction, but that could change.

“We didn’t feel like the whole situation was fair with the reporting, but we also didn’t feel like it was fair to pull it back,” Cagle said.

Cagle and Colburn both say they’d understand if only they’d missed the deadlines. But for 127 towns too, something seems off.

“I hate that we missed it; I hate even more that it’s probably not going to change,” Colburn said.


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