TUSCUMBIA — A resolution that essentially would have removed Colbert County from the Shoals Economic Development Authority was tabled Tuesday, but will be modified and brought before the commission at its meeting Feb. 19.
Commission Chairman Tommy Barnes said he never intended to call a vote on the resolution, which requests the State Legislature amend the legislation that created SEDA in 1985 to allow the county to create its own economic development fund controlled by Colbert County.
The half-cent sales tax adopted to fund SEDA and an economic development inventive fund would continue to be collected, but taxes collected in Colbert County would be used for Colbert County economic development projects and other projects including the expansion of broadband internet and a proposed railroad overpass.
SEDA Executive Director Forrest Wright said there is currently $32 million in the fund.
The mayors of Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, plus two Tuscumbia City Council members and numerous others attended the meeting. Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford and Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood both addressed the commission, as did Wright.
Bradford and Underwood said they oppose the resolution.
Bradford said 80 percent of the county's sales tax revenue is derived from the three major municipalities He said the half cent sales tax was approved after discussion among the Colbert and Lauderdale counties and their major municipalities.
"This could be the most divisive thing for the Shoals area in my history of being mayor for the last 18 years," Bradford said prior to the meeting.
Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford didn't speak at the meeting, but said he wasn't familiar enough with the proposal to say whether he supports or opposes it.
"I want to hear more about it," Sanford said. "On the surface, it doesn't seem right, but I don't have full knowledge about it. We haven't been included in it."
What also concerned the mayors is that nobody from the county commission discussed this proposal with them before the meeting.
"We've never been consulted on any of this," Underwood said.
Barnes said the intent was to introduce the resolution during Tuesday's meeting, then hold discussion with the mayors and others.
Underwood fears dissolving SEDA would send the wrong message to potential suppliers of the new $1.6 billion Toyota/Mazda facility being built in the Limestone County portion of Huntsville.
Underwood said he's met with plant officials who were familiar with "The Shoals" and were aware of the economic development fund SEDA possesses.
While he understands the need to secure funding for the various capital projects, Underwood said the SEDA fund should be used for job creation.
Barnes said he was attempting for find a funding source for various projects, some he believes are economic development related, that the county cannot afford.
Commissioner David Black said he believes broadband internet should be a function of the private sector and a railroad overpass is out of the purview of the county. Black said he opposes any effort to dissolve SEDA.
Black said involving politicians in economic development opens the door to potential ethics issues and cronyism.
"This is a money grab," he said.
Commissioner Jimmy Gardiner said his father, former Tuscumbia Mayor William F. Gardiner was a founding member of the SEDA board.
The commissioner said he received more calls on this issue than any issue he's faced.
He said his father was once asked if SEDA would work.
Gardiner said his father said it would, "but only until someone thinks they can do it better themselves."
Barnes said there are other resolutions that could be introduced related to the issue, but the resolution introduced Tuesday would be modified and discussed at the next meeting. One resolution has to do with capping the SIDC fund and distributing funds collected above the cap to the two counties in some yet to be determined form.
Lauderdale County Commission Chairman Danny Pettus said the County Commission is also considering asking the legislature to allow them to break away from SEDA and form their own economic development organization.
He said the commission will meet with the mayors of the county's municipalities to discuss the issue.
Pettus said Lauderdale County officials believe their own economic development organization could secure new jobs "faster and simpler" than SEDA.
"We're tired of crawling like a turtle," Pettus said. "We're ready to get some thing done for our count and our citizens at a faster pace."
Wright said neither commission has approached his board about SEDA's performance.
"We're always open to new ways to be successful," Wright said.
He said SEDA has been a model for other economic development authorities and also a model on how communities, like Colbert and Lauderdale County, can unite.
Wright also applauded both commissions for wanting more for their constituents.