MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Amid ongoing coverage of COVID-19, with the addition of protests and violence nationwide, the conclusion of Alabama’s 2020 legislative session passed quietly. All five local bills pertaining to Cullman County received signatures from Gov. Kay Ivey on May 18 and became laws effective on that date.
County Commission Expansion Act 2020-161 (House Bill 486)
House Bill 486 was sponsored by Representatives Randall Shedd, R-Fairview and Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope.
Shedd offered this summary:
The legislative delegation believes Cullman County’s population growth has outgrown the three-member county governing body concept, and therefore proposes to add elected representation for all four corners of the county.
Upon being fully implemented this legislation would not add additional cost to the taxpayers.
Rather than two full-time associate commissioners, this local legislation would add to the public’s representation by having four part-time commissioners.
Four associate commissioners would represent the four sections of the county: northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest areas of the county by residency requirements.
To promote countywide unity, all commissioners would run countywide.
The chairperson could reside anywhere in Cullman County and run countywide.
The legislation changes the title from Chairman to a gender-neutral title of Commission Chair.
The legislation would require at least one meeting per month be conducted in the evening to provide the working public an opportunity to attend commission meetings.
To ensure continuity, terms of associate commissioners will be staggered, with the two new commissioners serving a two-year term, then four-year terms thereafter.
Beginning with the new commissioners in November 2022, part-time commissioners’ salaries will be $25,000 per year.
No change in the Chairman’s salary
Current associate commissioners would be “grandfathered in” at their current pay.
The change of title from “Chairman” to “Commission Chair” and institution of one evening meeting per month will take place immediately, and the election of the two additional commissioners will take place in 2022.
As the bill headed to the Governor in May, Shedd told The Tribune, “Over and over at community meetings, the legislative delegation has heard from people expressing the need for the legislation we passed today.
“Today, the Alabama Legislature gave final approval to HB486, which changes the Cullman County Commission from three full-time members to four part-time commissioners representing all four sections of Cullman County and a full-time Commission Chair. I believe this is crucial to sound future growth for our county. Cullman County has outgrown the three-member system in terms of population and budgets.
“Over the next 10 years, we don’t know who our commissioners will be, therefore this is not about a person, it’s about the system. What we do know is the county commission will be spending over a half billion dollars of public funds. Under the current system, two people could get together and decide how to spend that money. That’s too much pressure on too few!
“I believe this better positions our county to address the economic and infrastructure needs of the future while giving all areas of the county representation. And, with the requirement for one meeting per month at night, the working public can attend if they need to. I believe this will prove to be good for future generations.”
Sales & Use Taxes Act 2020-144 (House Bill 496)
House Bill 496 was sponsored by Harbison and prohibits any new municipalities incorporated after the enactment of the law from receiving a portion of sales and use taxes that are distributed to existing cities and towns. Those municipalities already incorporated retain their current shares of the tax revenues.
After the passage of the bill through the Senate in May, Harbison told The Tribune, “I have had several requests over the years to do a bill like this from local mayors. And, you know, until recently, Berlin was actively working to incorporate, and I wasn’t going to do anything that may compromise that, in an effort that Cullman County citizens were actively working to do.
“But at this point, there’s no community that is actively working to incorporate, and so I don’t feel like it’s a jab at anybody. It’s just something that (will), pretty much, bring us in line. The rest of the state already operates that way. Cullman County is the only county in the state that shares sales tax like that.
“Any new municipality, it’ll be just as easy for one to form, but they will just have to do like the rest of the cities and towns across Alabama, and that would be (to) survive on their own merit.
“When you incorporate, the citizens that are within that community expect a certain level of services from the municipality. And I think that you need to be able to show that you can provide that on your own, and not pull from all the others that are already trying to provide based off of current projections and budgets and depending on that revenue stream.”
Battleground School Historical Board Act 2020-160 (House Bill 485)
House Bill 485 was sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, and established the Battleground School Historical Board, granting members immunity from civil liability for actions taken in the performance of their duties, and authorizing them to receive ownership of the Battleground School property from the Cullman County Board of Education. The act also prohibits the board from selling or transferring ownership of the property without a majority vote of qualified voters in the Battleground district.
Garden City School Property Act 2020-165 (House Bill 495)
House Bill 495 was sponsored by Harbison, authorizing the Town of Garden City to receive ownership of the Garden City School property. The Town Council is prohibited from selling or transferring ownership of the property without a majority vote of the qualified voters in Garden City.
Joppa Historical Board Act 2020-145 (House Bill 497)
House Bill 497 was sponsored by Shedd, amending 2019 Act 435 which established the Joppa Historical Board and gave it the authority to receive ownership of the Joppa School property from the Cullman County Board of Education. The amendment makes board members “immune from civil liability for actions taken in the conduct of their duties.”
Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman voted in favor of all five local bills when they came through the Senate.
Gudger told The Tribune in May, “I reviewed the bills and talked with Rep. Stadthagen, Rep. Harbison, Rep. Shedd, and I believe we are on the same page, and I signed the bills out to go to Senate committee and passed them today. I believe this is the right move for the Cullman community.”
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