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No police jurisdiction
Somerville ordinance may pave way for annexation

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

SOMERVILLE — Now that the Somerville Town Council has approved an ordinance doing away with its police jurisdiction for at least 10 years, state Sen. Arthur Orr is ready to proceed with House Bill 410, expanding the town limits.

Orr, R-Decatur, promised earlier Monday to take action on the bill if the council kept its pledge by unanimously passing the ordinance during its meeting Monday night, which it did by a 5-0 vote. Councilman Darren Tucker was absent.

Pushing amendment

However, although District 4 Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George told the council he hopes that "problems can all be cleared up and we can move forward in harmony," he is pushing for an amendment to the bill.

Before and after the meeting, he told The Daily he wants the bill to include the council's ordinance and more, stating that any action on the police jurisdiction once the decade passes must be approved by the County Commission.

Introduced by state Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, the measure passed the House on April 10. It affects eight property owners, including six businesses, who asked to be annexed.

Reaching compromise

Orr and Grantland previously reached a compromise on the bill that they said they hope will satisfy people on both sides of the issue. The town is annexing only those property owners who requested it. And with the police jurisdiction gone if, as expected, the Legislature approves the measure and Gov. Bob Riley signs it, businesses once in the jurisdiction will pay only county and state taxes.

"Our intentions are to try to help the businesses at Alabama 67 and Alabama 36 to get sewer," said Mayor Ray Long. "Stacy tells us he supports the bill if we drop the PJ. He has never mentioned to me about going back and rewriting the bill. (Our ordinance) won't be included. For that to happen, (the bill) would have to go back to the House to be voted on again. This is an ordinance, a pledge from the council to drop the PJ once the bill takes affect."

George said he led a commission public hearing Saturday at Sparkman Elementary School. He said about 150 residents had the opportunity to have input on issues related to potential annexations of county property in places such as Somerville by nearby municipalities including Huntsville and Arab.

He said the hearing specifically addressed the Somerville police jurisdiction and annexations.

"The town was trying to annex properties that affected several businesses, and the people were concerned because that would've put the Somerville police jurisdiction close to Brewer High School," he said. "I have a petition with 1,000 signatures that says they don't want to be in the P.J. Also, half of those signed a more detailed position that said they wanted House Bill 410 to disappear."

That isn't likely to happen, according to Orr.

"Either Somerville is going to abide by its own ordinances that it passes or it isn't," he said. "If they don't, I imagine the lawyers will be lining up."

Orr said the Morgan County legislative delegation met and approved supporting the bill "if Somerville pulls back its PJ."

Orr, who said he attended part of the public hearing Saturday, is aware of complaints many residents have.

"They don't want to be annexed into Somerville and they don't want to be in the PJ," he said. "With the council's action, this will end for those people already in the PJ. And no one will be in a new PJ for at least 10 years."

But Orr said he doesn't like the way Somerville extended its original PJ. He said he understands people who want to live in the county without city interference but have no recourse to prevent a town from moving them into a police jurisdiction.

"I want to get with the Alabama League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissioners to see if we can't have some kind of resolution to address this issue," he said. "I'm referring to all towns in Alabama."

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