FLORENCE — Colbert and Lauderdale County commissioners will work with a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama group to hammer out a document that could expand the the uses of money held in the Shoals Economic Development Fund.

Nearly 50 government and community leaders met Thursday for nearly two hours in an attempt to create a consensus on how the economic development fund's money can be spent. 

Colbert County Commission Chairman Tommy Barnes said the two commissions will work with PARCA representatives who are developing a similar document, then meet with leaders in individual cities to ensure their thoughts are also included.

Florence businessman Jackie Hendrix, who is on the Shoals Economic Development Authority and Shoals Chamber of Commerce boards, as well as the PARCA study group, said the PARCA plan has recommended expanding the use of the money in the Shoals Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) and expanding the definition of "economic development."

"I think we need to do something together," Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood said. 

Underwood earlier proposed gathering one person from each city and the two county commissions to work on the plan. The Shoals Industrial Development Committee, which approves requests for SIDF money, is composed of the mayors of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, a representative of the Colbert and Lauderdale County commissions, and representatives of the small municipalities in each county.

Some members of the group expressed frustrations about SEDA's recruitment efforts.

Assistant Director Kevin Jackson, however, said SEDA has several recruitment trips planned this year, and representatives have been engaged in discussions with Toyota/Mazda officials about bringing suppliers to the two counties.

The two automakers are working on a joint venture in Limestone County.

Jackson said there are local industrial sites on the market and that officials are familiar with them.

SEDA Executive Director Forrest Wright said Rogersville, Florence and Muscle Shoals have industrial parks that are certified Alabama Advantage Sites, meaning they are sites with infrastructure in place. 

"What we don't have is a 1,000-acre site on the railroad with water and sewer," he said.

Jackson said SEDA is also looking at economic development activities outside the Toyota/Mazda project.

Some government officials said they did not know about SEDA's activities, despite having representatives on the SEDA Board of Directors. The city of Florence and Lauderdale County each have six representatives while Colbert County, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia have three each.

State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said he's hearing announcements of new companies coming to Madison and Limestone counties, but not Colbert and Lauderdale.

"Everything over there is shovel ready," he said. "We need to get ready now."

State Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said the area needs to get moving on providing the infrastructure needed to lure Toyota/Mazda suppliers.

Florence Mayor Steve Holt said he would like to see SIDF money help fund the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, but he also agreed funds should be used to help run new waterlines in Tuscumbia and Sheffield, and provide water, sewer and improved electrical service to Rogersville Industrial Park.

Wright said SEDA was already working with the Florence Electricity Department to improve electrical service at the Rogersville park.

He said the restrictions, or qualifier,s on the SIDF were put in place by community leaders when the fund was created. He said the fund originally had no restrictions.

He said the SIDF money can be used for building roads and running water lines, but only under certain circumstances. 

Thursday's meeting was called by Colbert County Commissioner Jimmy Gardiner, who also proposed cutting in half the amount of money each county pays into the SIDF with half of the contributions going to SEDA and half to the counties.

State Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said he would not support such a proposal. He and state Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, said they would rather see the tax reduced than allow it to be collected and spent on local infrastructure projects.

Stutts and Sorrell agreed the uses of the SIDF money should be expanded. 

If any changes are made to the SIDF, legislation is required. Sorrell said he would like to see concurrent resolutions from the cities and two counties.


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