PARCA

Danna Austin and Nathan Willingham write ideas during the PARCA meeting Wednesday morning. [BERNIE DELINSKI/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — The very mention of consolidation brings a range of emotions from approval to anger among Shoals residents.

Members of the Government Cooperation and Structure work group involved in the Greater Shoals effort said Wednesday they realize it is a highly charged issue.

Nathan Willingham said it is important to engage in a "visionary, rather than tactical approach."

"We need to understand what our end goal is," Willingham said. "What does the Shoals look like if we lived under one set of laws?"

He said he understands individual cities fear losing their identity, but that would not necessarily be the case. He pointed to the suburbs of New York City as examples. They remain well known and identified while still under the umbrella of New York City.

Alvin Rosenbaum, who coordinates the Greater Shoals sessions, stressed ideas that are brought up at the meeting do not constitute formal proposals.

He said they are discussing the feasibility of various forms of government cooperation and collaboration of services.

The group will assemble one more time and will decide on recommendations to make during an overall Greater Shoals meeting on June 18.

Earlier this year, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) presented results of a study titled "A Greater Shoals: A Pathway," and six committees were formed to look into the main areas that were discussed.

Those include Broadening the Definition of Economic Development, Developing Hi-Tech Infrastructure, Government Cooperation and Structure, Quality of Life, Unified Tourism, and Workforce Development and Education.

The PARCA report does not recommend immediately consolidating into one city, but points out there are various aspects of local governments that would operate together. It did suggest Sheffield and Tuscumbia would be the most likely Shoals cities to consider for consolidation.

During Wednesday's meeting, Deborah Bell Paseur said jail overcrowding is a consistent issue in Lauderdale and Colbert counties.

"I've had concerns for some time about the jail situation," Paseur said. "I think it would be a crying shame if we didn't have a metro jail."

Florence City Councilman Andy Betterton said a downside he has heard regarding a single jail involves transporting inmates back and forth to court appearances. However, Betterton added that already is being resolved through video court appearances that make it possible to have hearings without the inmates leaving the jail.

Another suggestion involves having uniform city regulations, such as building codes and places to get permits, to avoid confusion from one city to the next.

Group members pointed to the economy of scale concept, referring to the notion of larger entities being more efficient and cost effective.

There also was discussion about schools, although members of the group said they realize anything school related would be a difficult and controversial move. There also is a logistical problem due to potentially long travel distances consolidation would force on some students.

Additional issues that were brought up include the fact that the Shoals operates three separate transfer stations for solid waste, the numerous water authorities in the area, having a unified port authority, and the increased clout that is provided by the Shoals operating as one unit.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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