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THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2007
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Lawrence officials remain unhappy with Letson’s bill

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

MOULTON — Lawrence County officials said Rep. Jody Letson’s attempt at pacifying them by deleting a few lines from his controversial economic-development bill isn’t working.

The bill, sponsored by Letson, D-Hillsboro, has passed the House and the Senate and needs only Gov. Bob Riley’s signature for approval.

If the bill is approved, the Economic Development Commission would be funded by a 3 percent increase in TVA in-lieu of tax payments the county began receiving this fiscal year. That amounts to about $85,000 and will increase each year as total Tennessee Valley Authority payments to the county increase.

TVA money is currently divided among the municipalities, the Industrial Development Board, the schools and the county’s General Fund. This year’s TVA payment, including the increase, has already been distributed to those agencies’ budgets and would be diverted to the commission if the bill is approved.

Commission members would be appointed by the legislative delegation that now includes Letson, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman.

The original proposal let the three legislators “recommend” how the commission would spend the money, but Letson deleted that clause after local officials accused him of setting up a slush fund.

But the bill would still take money from the county, cities and school board and give it to an unelected commission, said Commissioner Bradley Cross.

“(The legislative delegation) still has control over it, and they can do what they want to,” he said.

Cross said he was appalled that the legislators continued to push for the bill despite the county’s and cities’ protests.

“Every organization in the county opposed this, and they passed it anyway,” he said. “I guess that’s their call, but (voters) should remember that.”

Moulton Mayor Ray Alexander said Letson’s changes to the bill didn’t make it any better for the county.

‘It didn’t need fixing’

“I still feel the same about it as I did before,” he said. “There was already a mechanism in place to distribute the money ... It didn’t need fixing.”

Commissioner Alma Whitlow agreed and said the County Commission would be better able to determine the needs of the county than a commission appointed by legislators who are often out of town.

“If they appoint the right people — which, of course, is going to be a problem — but if they appoint people interested in the county and that do the right thing, it would help things,” she said.

The bill states that one of the members of the Economic Development Commission must be an elected Lawrence County official. Whitlow said that member should be a county commissioner.

“The commissioners are here all the time and are a more direct representation of their constituents,” she said. “I don’t know if that would appease the people or not, but it would make me feel better ... I still don’t support it.”

Whitlow said she planned to call the governor Wednesday afternoon to again voice her concerns.

The County Commission, the Lawrence County Board of Education, Town Creek and Moulton have all sent resolutions opposing the bill to Riley’s office.

“My only hope is that the governor won’t sign it. We’ve all encouraged him not to with resolutions, and we’ve called him on several occasions,” said Alexander. “We just hope he listens to the people instead of those three individuals.”

Letson did not return calls from The Daily requesting comment.

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