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Lawrence to Letson: we should spend funds
Resolution opposes putting TVA money in hands of panel

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

MOULTON — Lawrence County is suffering financially and needs additional funding that is coming from the Tennessee Valley Authority, County Commissioner Bradley Cross said Monday.

But Rep. Jody Letson, in a meeting with commissioners, stuck to his plan to create a new government panel to decide how to spend the money.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing Letson's proposed bill to use an increase in TVA payments to fund a Community Development Commission. The state approved the 3 percent increase for counties in the TVA service area last year.

"Inflation has skyrocketed over the last few years, and we're not generating anything to keep up with it," Cross told Letson. "Anything we could get in addition to what we're already getting would be a plus. It may be extra money, but it's money that we need."

Letson, D-Hillsboro, quickly replied, "You wouldn't have got it if we didn't get this passed.

What would you have done then?”

“Well, that’s your job to get us more money,” said Cross.

Cross has criticized the bill by saying it would create a discretionary fund, or additional “pork,” for legislators to “buy votes.”

During the meeting, Letson responded to those remarks, asking commissioners about their own discretionary funds. At the beginning of their term, new commissioners each received $40,000 to disperse within their districts.

“What did you all do with that?” Letson asked.

No commissioner commented.

Letson plans to introduce legislation in mid-May to create the panel to control the funds.

Local mayors and Lawrence County Republican Party Chairman Danny Kerby attended the meeting in opposition to the bill.

Area officials have argued that the TVA payments belong to the county and should be disbursed by local elected officials rather than by an appointed commission.

The bill would allow each member of the legislative delegation, which currently includes Letson, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, to appoint one member to the commission. It would also include one elected official.

The commission would be funded by a 2006 state-approved 3 percent increase in TVA in-lieu-of-tax payments going to Lawrence County.

TVA payments to the state currently are divided between counties in the utility’s service area and dry counties in the south. The percentage going to TVA counties has gradually increased since 1980 and reached 78 percent in 2006.

Letson told commissioners that legislators had intended at that time to use the increase to set up commissions that could fund special projects including economic development, conservation, recreation and fire assistance. That intent was not announced last year, and commissioners said they were unaware of the proposed legislation until it began running, as required, in local newspapers.

Letson said the 3 percent increase amounted to between $85,000 and $100,000.

“It’s new money that doesn’t go to anybody,” he said. “It doesn’t affect your county. We were bringing it back to the county.”

Lawrence County included the increase in this year’s budget and has already distributed required percentages to the Board of Education and municipalities, said County Administrator Linda Harville.

The county’s resolution states that “revenue for (county) operations has fallen short of needed funds” and that an increase in TVA payments “should be controlled by the primary governing body of Lawrence County.”

The Moulton City Council and the Town Creek Town Council passed similar resolutions this month.

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