“Watching County Road Restoration Funds Disappear Down the (Pot) Hole”

By:  David Money

     As this is being written on Friday, May 19th), the Alabama Legislature is today winding down the 2017 legislative session…with ZERO help for county roads. This is especially frustrating because county and city officials from all over the Wiregrass had come together in support of a plan that would have made a remarkable difference in our quest for economic development and improved road safety.  The effort that died in this year’s session actually began with meetings with legislators last summer and fall.  Then in December, counties statewide voted to endorse a program, drafted by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA), that would generate a funding source with all the proceeds earmarked to restore county roads that are not eligible for federal funds.  As the ACCA District 11 board member (representing the nine counties in the most southeastern part of Alabama) I know firsthand the work and effort that went into crafting a piece of legislation that is both affordable and accountable.  It would use a three cents per gallon fuel tax increase to support a $1.2 billion dollar bond issue.  As has been stated, for the driver putting 20,000 miles per year on a vehicle averaging 22 mpg, this would result in a charge of about $1.25 per month (the price of a 20 ounce soft drink – one soft drink per month!)  Henry County alone would have realized $10.2 million dollars from this program – known as ATRIP2.  Our county engineer and his staff had already met with each individual commissioner to determine the roads in most need of work in each district.  We were prepared to put out proposals as soon as the legislation was signed by Governor Ivey (who remains a strong supporter of this legislation.)  We would have been one of the first counties in the state to begin shovel ready projects.  In addition to providing relief for Henry County, 20% of the proceeds were earmarked for the four towns in our county – each mayor strongly supported the legislation.  We were prepared to resurface 75 to 100 miles of roads in Henry County and its municipalities.  This kind of program is well beyond our reach with today’s revenue.  All of the local officials in our area went on record in support of this effort.  And we were encouraged when the bill was finally scheduled for a floor vote. 

     So what happened?  When that day came and the bill reached the floor of the House of Representatives in April, it was pulled before a vote could ever be taken.  In the aftermath of our disappointment, the ACCA reported that the effort was unsuccessful for three reasons: First, the members of the Democratic Caucus in the House collectively led a filibuster and prevented a critical procedural vote (called the BIR) that is necessary to move a bill to the floor.  Second, a group of north Alabama Republican legislators who ran on the platform of ‘no new taxes’ refused to support the bill despite its many accountability provisions.  And, third, the mayors of Alabama’s five largest cities sought to change the established formula for distributing gas tax revenue because they wanted to shift more money into their cities. 

     These factors influenced a few (including some of our local legislators) to find reasons to step away from the bill when we had the opportunity to get it passed.  Because of this, the citizens of Henry County are left right where we were this time last year when the 2016 session ended: driving on badly and quickly deteriorating roads with no money for repairs.

     I’ve received four calls this morning (May 19th) from citizens complaining about the conditions of our roads (two of those calls were about County Road 55.)  Three of the four callers stated that they would have gladly paid the small increase for improved roads.  They expect and deserve accountability.  And they would have gotten it.  It was my plan to publish regular updates to publicize the roads that were to be resurfaced as well as the projected cost for each road.  We would have then identified each month the road(s) that would have been the next ones to be resurfaced.  EVERY PENNY of the new ATRIP2 funding would have gone to roads…no salary increases…no new equipment…all to roads that needed it most.    

     So what’s next?  I personally believe this issue is too important to die simply because the session has ended.  There’s the possibility of a special session being called this summer and the hope, if there is one, that Governor Ivey will place the infrastructure issue in her Call. If that happens I urge you to contact your legislator and enlist his support of this critical legislation.  I know of no other answer.  I welcome – no, encourage – anyone to show me a plan whereby we can resurface the roads you drive on every day without the resources to pay for it.  Let’s get our heads out of the sand and do what’s needed in Henry County.

30 Day Update:

  • March probate activity was as follows: one will probated, one adoption, three involuntary commitments, two guardianships, two administrations, one legitimation, one final settlement, two miscellaneous hearings and eleven marriage licenses issued.
  • Citizens with last names beginning with ‘H’ or ‘O’ have five days remaining to renew your tags. If your last name begins with ‘I’ or ‘M’ you will renew in June.
  • May 1 – several businessmen met with Representative Grimsley to urge his support of the ATRIP2 program to generate much needed funds for county road improvements.
  • May 4 – we presented Henry County Youth Leadership pins to HHS participants.
  • May 11 – we observed the National Day of Prayer with a very meaningful service in the upstairs court room.
  • May 5 – Wallace College Foundation Board members assisted in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the very impressive Health Science Building on the Wallace campus.
  • May 15 – the Henry County Road Department made its final pass through the tornado damaged area in Sunset Acres – our sincere appreciation to all who have helped.
  • May 17 – we presented Henry County Youth Leadership pins to ACA participants.
  • May 18 – we presented Henry County Youth Leadership pins to AHS participants.
  • May 21 – we attended the retirement reception for Phil and Katie Craddock at Headland United Methodist Church.
  • May 21 – we attended the celebration of the 20th birthday of the Haleburg Senior Citizens Center.
  • May 22 – HCHR board meeting
  • May 23 – we held the commencement dinner honoring the nine participants of the 2016/2017 Henry County Youth Leadership Program. We also welcomed back the participants from Class # 1 and introduced the participants for Class # 3.

Dates to Remember:

  • May 31 – E-911 board meeting – Headland E-911 office
  • June 6 – Wallace College Foundation Board meeting – Dothan
  • June 7 – ACCA Workers Comp Board meeting – Montgomery
  • June 11/14 – APJA Summer Conference in Orange Beach
  • June 18 – Father’s Day
  • June 20 – May Administrative meeting – 9:00 AM – Probate Court Room
  • June 20 – May Commission meeting – 10:30 AM – Probate Court Room