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Walker County has no easy answers for financial mess

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, August 21, 2017, State Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and State Representative Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) met with the Walker County Commission six days after voters went to the polls and rejected a sales tax that the Commission had billed as Walker County’s only way to avoid bankruptcy.  The voters said. “No” and now the Commission is looking for alternatives.

Sen. Reed said that he has been looking at several possibilities. Reed thanked the Commission for working with them in a collaborative manner.  The sales tax, “Was the best option.”  “We have spent the last 15 months working toward that option. That opportunity has come and gone.”

“Now we have to dig deeper.  I know your heart and mind and you want to do the best for Walker County. I have been on the telephone and I have spoken with Governor Kay Ivey (R). She is aware, she is interested and wants to know what she can do for Walker County.  She knows we have got issues. She is willing to dispatch State Finance Director Clinton Carter and a team of finance experts to analyze the issues that you know well. After our meeting Mr. Carter is expecting a call from me. I have spoken with Congressman Aderholt and there are grants that could be available for roads. That is a challenge because of the match.  I also talked with Sonny Brasfield at the Association of County Commissions Alabama.  He said his team was willing to come to Walker County and see what they can do.”

Walker County Commissioner Keith Davis said the majority of the people in the rural areas want their roads fixed.  I don’t want to go bankruptcy.  And I love our employees.  They can’t go from five days a week to three days. Bankruptcy and hurting our employees is two things I don’t want to do.

Walker County Commissioner Steven Aderholt said, “Looking at the numbers we can come up with a budget, but there is no money for roads. The last five years we have worked very hard not to lay off a single person.  Looking at these numbers that won’t be possible going forward.”

Commissioner Aderholt said that in the seventies and eighties Walker County received over $one million in coal severance money every year and then asphault and gravel cost ten percent of what they do now.  The severance check is 15 to 20 percent of what it was in the eighties. The money has gone away and the coal business is not coming back to be what it used to be. The People in Walker County said that they do not want to pay any more taxes,”

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State Representative Connie Rowe said, “We are certainly all in this together.  Not only because of the positions we hold but also because of the citizens we serve. Bankruptcy is the last possible option.  That is not something that we should more toward.”

Rowe said, “Clinton Carter is extremely highly respected regarding government financing. He is a impressive sharp fellow.  We continue to be very supportive of you as individuals and the commission collectively. My family has been in this county for 12 generations.”

Aderholt said that $1.2 million is being pulled out of the $1.8 million for roads and bridges to the General Fund. According to the county engineer they only have enough money in the budget to maintain 35 miles of road in each district.  Emphasis will be on the most traveled roads in each district.  As the roads deteriorate every side road will go back to gravel.

County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop said that the Commission maintains seven buildings and they need work.  “When I came down here we had 20 buckets, we have got that down to 10. Some people are not going to like what we are going to have to do.”

Commissioner Jeff Burrough said that a large county like Jefferson can go into bankruptcy and can recover.  “We can’t.  Greene County never recovered from its bankruptcy.  I am committed to this county. we live in the county. I could choose to live in other places, I don’t because I love Walker County. All options are on the table.”

In 2002 an earlier commission borrowed $9.5 million and deferred interest and principle payments for ten years.  That growing debt is now at $25 million and Walker County has to begin making $1.5 million a year payments on that debt early next year.

Commissioner Ralph Williams said that when Commissioners across the State receive their training, Walker County is used as the example of what not do.

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Com. Aderholt said that the coming budget cuts will be, “very impactful” and could “start as soon as this week.”

The tax proposal would have generated $7 million a year.  Opponents questioned why only $1.5 million of that would go to debt reduction and questioned the need for the county to be so dramatically increasing government spending.  Walker County already has a 2 cent sales tax; but most of that is earmarked for the schools. The “NO”s won out 6564 (52.1 percent) to 6034 for the “YES”s (47.9 percent).  35 of the 46 boxes chose no.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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