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Somerville agrees to drop police jurisdiction

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

SOMERVILLE — State Sen. Arthur Orr and state Rep. Ronald Grantland have reached a compromise on a Somerville annexation bill that may satisfy people on both sides of the issue.

Orr, R-Decatur, and Grantland, D-Hartselle, said the bill will not affect businesses that don't want to be annexed. Plus it will wipe out the Somerville police jurisdiction for 10 years.

Grantland's bill passed the House on April 10. It affects eight property owners, including owners of six businesses, who asked to be annexed.

If Orr gets Senate approval as planned, the town will no longer have a police jurisdiction. On Monday, Somerville Mayor Ray Long gave a written proposal to Orr to eliminate the police jurisdiction.

Long, with unanimous consent of the Town Council, said once the Legislature approves the bill and Gov. Bob Riley signs it, the police jurisdiction "will end effective on the first day of the third month following passage."

Long said the council would meet and pass a resolution ending the police jurisdiction for not less than 10 years.

"The council will agree to consult with the local legislative delegation before ever returning to a PJ," he said.

"It will help our customers," said Cindy Holladay, who co-owns Jason's Corner at Alabama 67 and Alabama 36 with her husband, Kenny. The convenience store, which sells groceries and gas, is in Somerville's jurisdiction but is not requesting annexation.

"Our customers won't have to pay the half-cent tax to Somerville," she said. "They will pay only 7 cents, 3 cents of which goes to the county and 4 cents to the state."

But Holladay voiced concern about police and fire protection.

"Fire coverage will remain the same because it's a volunteer service," Long said. "Once we drop the PJ, the Morgan County Sheriff's Department will provide police protection."

Grantland said there has been "confusion and misinformation" among some residents on how much the sales tax would increase for those businesses seeking annexation.

"Some thought the tax (to Somerville) is already 1 cent and that annexation would increase it to 2 cents," he said. "It would increase only one-half cent, from 7.5 cents to 8 cents."

Sewer is the driving force for businesses pressing for annexation. Jack's Family Restaurant is an example. Because the soil in the area doesn't percolate well, the restaurant's septic tank is creating an expensive problem.

Assistant Manager Starla Vickery said Jack's had to install a new septic system two years ago because the old one wasn't functioning properly. Still, she said, the company pays $2,000 or more to have the tank pumped.

"It's $250 each time, and we have it done twice a week and more if we have hard rains," she said. "We can't wait for sewer."

Orr said Doug Wigginton, a Somerville resident and a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Board, told him that there's a problem with septic tanks leaking into streams because of the poor perk status of the soil.

"Also, I understand that some people have difficulty subdividing property because the county engineer (Greg Bodley) won't approve a certificate due to the poor perk quality," Orr said. "Because of the sanitation problem, property values and local health are affected.

Orr said Somerville is taking the lead to secure a sewer system, which will increase property values and help develop the area. Somerville must have retail tax dollars to fund it.

The senator said he grew up in the country and understands residents' concerns about an encroaching police jurisdiction.

"I believe our tentative agreement adequately addresses those concerns but also puts in motion what should be a long-term solution to the waste treatment problems for the area," he said.

Orr said he will consult with a municipal attorney to determine the best course of action to solidify the agreement.

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