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Alabama Forward: County officials would welcome more home rule

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
When Alabama's current constitution went into effect in 1901, it purposely limited the powers of county and city governments throughout the state. Many, including Escambia County officials, would like to see that change and see the state relinquish some of its control back to local governments.
Perhaps the governing body effected most by the current limitations of the constitution is county governments. From spending to taxing, the state requires many factions of local governing to go through Montgomery.
There have been numerous efforts to rewrite the constitution and many feel that a rewrite should give power back to counties in order to avoid the quagmire of amendments that exists with today's document.
Gov. Bob Riley is the latest official to push for a new governing document and has said it is a key to reforming state government.
Tony Sanks, Escambia County administrator, said the current constitution costs counties, not only some power, but also time.
Because the county must go through the state to make many of its decisions, many times commissioners find themselves waiting.
Sanks added that local state legislators are usually very cooperative in attempting to introduce and push local legislation through Montgomery. But, the fact that some of these decisions must go through Montgomery in the first place is a sign of the power structure set up by the current constitution.
Currently, Escambia County has three bills to be considered by state legislators. First, the county has asked the state to authorize an election for local citizens to vote on whether or not to implement a 10-mill ad valorem tax for education.
The second item pending in Montgomery is a request for the county to be given the authority to place a fee on license plates and tags for the purpose of funding education.
The county also has personal interest in a bill that will give all counties more options in managing funds from the Oil and Gas Trust. Currently, the state requires that counties invest the money in either U.S. Treasury Notes or certificates of deposits. Sanks said the local commission would like to have more options in investing, especially at this particular time.
It's not always about money. Even the most simple decisions sometimes require an act of the Alabama legislature.
Sanks said that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the current effort to reform the constitution.