Patrick Bates heads up the Berlin incorporation effort.
BERLIN – In 2015, Patrick Bates wasn’t interested in the idea of his community going through the hassle of becoming an incorporated municipality. After attending a community meeting with members of the Cullman County Commission, he changed his mind.
“I left this meeting thinking this shouldn’t be done, this couldn’t be done,” he said. “But I had some lingering questions that, when I did my own research on it, I found out that, no, we actually can make this work. We probably should give a go of it. Through my research and looking into things, I ended up kind of taking over the effort. I don’t know how that happened, to be honest.”
The community of Berlin sits, basically, within a circle, the radius of which centers on the intersection of County Road 747 and U.S. Highway 278 (the dimensions of the Berlin voting precinct). Established in the late 19th century, it is among the oldest and most densely populated communities in the county to remain unincorporated. With the number of residents in the area to be incorporated estimated by Bates to be approximately 750, an incorporated Berlin would have received $248,564.93 in county sales tax revenue in 2015 alone, in addition to other sources of income.
Said Bates, “The primary advantage (of incorporation) is the sole responsibility of towns under our state law, and that is that you’re responsible for your own road maintenance. We have sample budgets that show that we can take care of our own roads. The County does as good a job as it can with what it has, but it appears that we will be able to do a better job of resurfacing with our own funds.”
According to Bates, the proposed municipality has about 9 miles of roads (excluding Hwy. 278, which would not fall under the town’s jurisdiction), with some subdivision roads not having been resurfaced since their initial installations more than 25 years ago. Under a sample budget, up to $90,000 per year could be dedicated to roads, allowing all roads in the proposed municipality to be repaved or chip sealed every 10 to 12 years.
Bates feels like the time has come for Berlin to get its slice of the County pie. He has begun a push to bring incorporation to a vote in the fall of 2017. He and others have mailed information to area residents, and have even gone door to door in some places to get the word out.
According to Bates, “We just did a direct mailer last week to about 250 households in and adjacent to the proposed boundaries, trying to make sure everyone knows about it.”
How is it going? Bates shared, “We started collecting signatures in April of last year. We have about a hundred signatures right now on the petition. That represents between a quarter and a third of all the registered voters in the area that we’re looking at incorporating. We could submit with that, but there’s a few areas where we don’t have enough signatures. We’re still lacking a few signatures scattered about, that we need to have everything locked up. We’re going to try, over the next three or four months, to finish getting that together.
“We’ll have to have this decided, whether we’re going to submit it or not submit it, by July. There’s an attorney general’s opinion out from some years ago, that says the signatures are only valid for 18 months; since we started collecting signatures last April, we’re 12 months in now. It’s either get it done or don’t.”
The area to be incorporated, at least initially, runs about a quarter mile to either side of County Road 747, from 2 miles north of Hwy. 278 to roughly a mile and a half south of the highway.
“It’s over 900 acres,” said Bates. “I think it will be one of the largest initial incorporations in Cullman County history, at least by acreage. It will definitely be bigger than the last few.”
Bates thinks that he has good support for the move. He stated, “Of the ones that I’ve actually spoken to, the vast majority are for it.”
If you are a Berlin community resident, Bates and his collaborators want to hear from you, whether you are for incorporation or against it. On Tuesday, Apr. 11, a public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Berlin Community Center to present the plan and hear thoughts and concerns from local folks.
Bates does not seem worried about negative feedback or concerns. He said, “The best thing is to come prepared with your questions. We’re all for making sure everyone’s informed. My goal of success here is not whether we create a town, but whether or not we have a vote to create a town.”
At a glance
- Berlin community incorporation public information and discussion meeting
- Tuesday, Apr. 11 at 7 p.m.
- Berlin Community Center, 3309 Highway 278 East, Cullman
For more information, including a downloadable booklet and maps of the proposed area, visit http://berlinal.org or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BerlinALIncorp.
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