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15 Alabama counties have limited home rule

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

LACEY'S SPRING — For residents of unincorporated areas to have the right to vote for self-governance, or limited home rule, their respective county commissions must agree to put it on the ballot.

Voters in 10 counties approved the self-governance bill during the general election Nov. 7, according to selfgov.net. They include the North Alabama counties of Cherokee, Colbert, DeKalb, Madison and Winston. Earlier, during the June 6 primary, five other counties passed the measure, including Marshall County.

Bobbi Bailey, elections clerk in the Limestone County probate judge's office, said Limestone County voters defeated the bill 17,621 to 6,053 during the general election of 2004.

Clerk Tammy Moman said voters in Marshall approved the measure by 379 votes, 4,259 to 3,880, or 52.3 percent.

"After the vote but before (the law) to clean up junk vehicles could be implemented, we had a public hearing and the chamber was full," she said. "Six people spoke for it and six against it. After they spoke, we polled the audience. It was deadlocked."

Still, the Marshall County Commission, she said, eventually approved the bill Feb. 26 on a 5-0 vote.

"The bill covers seven different items and before any one of them can go into effect, there has to be a public hearing for each," she said.

If Morgan County voters passed the bill, Lacey's Spring residents could use it to clean up their community. The Morgan County Commission would have the authority to abate nuisances such as junkyards, overgrown weeds, litter and rubbish, sewage, noise, pollution and animals.

But District 4 Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George said when voters "pass a bill this broad, it is almost impossible to enforce without some kind of criminal penalty. It's supposed to be about cleaning up the county and making it better, but it becomes a political football."

George said government must be careful on private property issues. He said most people who buy in the county want to live in the county.

"I have sympathy for someone buying an acre lot on which to build, but next week someone comes in and puts a chicken house beside him," he said. "There are some things in life that government can't take care of. I think this is an example."

George said residents must comply with groundwater contamination rules. For example, he said, if someone suspects a neighbor's old car is leaking antifreeze, he should contact the Morgan County Health Department, who may refer him to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in Decatur.

The commissioner said that while he isn't advocating either, he believes one of two things will happen during the next two to five years that will change Lacey's Spring.

"Arab and Huntsville are aggressively headed this way," he said. "Lacey's Spring residents have a choice. They make their own rules with incorporation or Arab and Huntsville will make them with annexations."

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