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Lawrence GOP against Development Commission

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — The Lawrence County Republican Party has joined local officials in opposing a proposed bill that they say would create additional pork for the legislative delegation.

The Moulton City Council approved a resolution opposing the bill April 9, and the Lawrence County Commission plans to do the same Monday.

The proposed legislation would establish a Community Development Commission funded by a 3-percent increase in TVA in-lieu-of-tax money that the county started receiving this year.

Commission members would be appointed by the local legislative delegation, which currently consists of Rep. Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

Commission members’ terms would coincide with the terms of the representatives or senators who appointed them.

The bill would allow Letson to recommend how the commission should spend 50 percent of the funding. Little and Bedford would be allowed to recommend the remaining 50 percent.

According to the bill, the money would be used to promote economic development, conservation, recreation and fire protection.

The proposed legislation does not specify how the funding — which would amount to more than $65,000 this year — would be audited or who would be responsible for recording expenditures. It also does not establish a public process for agencies or individuals to request funding.

Mid-May introduction

Letson has said he plans to introduce the bill in mid-May. He told The Daily on Monday that he would like to speak to a reporter about the legislation, but did not return calls requesting comment Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Local officials have criticized the bill, claiming that it will create a “slush fund” for legislators to disburse to their favored agencies. Commissioner Bradley Cross went so far as to say that it was “backdoor robbery for them to have money to get elected on.”

Lawrence County Republican Party chairman Danny Kerby said in a press release last week that the funding for the community development commission belongs in the county’s general fund.

“Each dollar that is moved to a special project decreases funding for current county services,” he said. “These include such programs as care for the elderly, law enforcement, or paved roads.

“The local legislation should designate that the money be deposited directly into Lawrence County’s general fund, not the hands of personal favorites of our legislative delegation.”

The general fund is managed by local elected officials, giving residents the power to change those officials if they are not meeting their expectations, said Kerby.

The new commission “will not be accountable to the Lawrence County taxpayers,” he said.

If the bill is approved, the funding for the Community Development Commission will come from Tennessee Valley Authority payments that the Lawrence County Commission has already budgeted this year, said County Administrator Linda Harville.

Lawrence County received $2,208,420 in TVA money in 2006. The county disburses one-third to the Board of Education and varying percentages to cities and towns.

Out of the remaining money — about $800,000 in 2006 — the county is required to fund the Industrial Development Board with $150,000 annually and each fire department and rescue squad with $2,000.

If Letson’s bill is approved, the Lawrence County General Fund will lose about $65,000, and the Board of Education will lose about $22,000.

As a federal agency, TVA does not pay state and local taxes. Instead, it makes a single payment to the state general fund each year.

A 1978 state law requires that dry counties outside the TVA service area share in the TVA in-lieu-of-tax money.

The percentage going to TVA counties has gradually increased over the years from 20 percent in 1979 to 78 percent in 2006, when legislators approved a 3 percent increase, the first increase since 1985.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, introduced a bill this month that would phase out funding for non-TVA counties over five years, sending more money to Lawrence County and others served by the nation’s largest utility.

Letson’s proposed bill to fund a Community Development Commission with the 2006 increase in TVA funds does not specify whether future increases would also be diverted to the commission.

Kirby urged residents opposed to the bill to voice their concerns to the governor’s office at (334) 242-7100.

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