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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
During its evening meeting last Tuesday, the County Commission heard from local citizens and elected officials on various matters and also heard an update from Rep. Ben Robbins concerning legislation related to Forever Wild.
All commissioners were present for the meeting, which was the lowest attended evening meeting since the commission resumed meeting twice each month.
Robbins addressed the commissioners to discuss local legislation on Forever Wild and provide updates, as requested by the commission.
Robbins mentioned that he knows Coosa County’s issue for years has been the loss of tax revenue over the years from Forever Wild. He credited Revenue Commissioner Debra Lamberth with providing detailed information concerning how much money the county has lost since 2008, which he said is about $670,000.
He said he has worked on a way to try to get money out of Forever Wild, which entails selling carbon credits on land they own and profits they make off that to go back to the county. Initially it was proposed as a statewide bill, which he said Forever Wild fought him on, and Lamberth went to Montgomery and testified in a public hearing about the loss of tax revenue for Coosa County.
While they were fighting the statewide issue, Robinson said he filed a local-only bill for Coosa County, stating he was able to slip it in while Forever Wild was distracted fighting the statewide measure. He reviewed the process of hearing and passing the local bill.
He said they then had a Coosa County only bill that would bring some revenue from Forever Wild back to Coosa County. He credited Sen. Clyde Chambliss with his efforts and work on getting the bill through, as well.
Robbins explained that Chambliss had taken the bill to the Senate, noting some frustrating steps along the way with fighting with Forever Wild and being lied to by Forever Wild representatives. He added that he felt everyone should be proud of Chambliss because he told them unless the bill got heard and voted on that day, as chair of local legislation in the Senate that no one would get any local legislation passed down to the Senate.
“At that point, Forever Wild knew they had to work with us because we were going to get the bill heard,” Robbins said. “They could have delayed it all day and ran the session out, but they weren’t going to be able to do that.”
He provided further details and updates on the process and discussions back and forth with Forever Wild to try to come to a compromise. He noted that during the process he told Forever Wild he was going to do “whatever is good for Coosa County.”
Ultimately, he said that Forever Wild got an attorney general’s opinion stating that they can use interest accrued from its Stewardship Fund to pay every county in Alabama that has Forever Wild land.
Robbins said the Forever Wild Board would be meeting May 5, at which time it would put into place its rules and regulations on how they will start doing that.
“I feel very good about it,” Robbins said.
He explained that following the May 5 meeting, the Forever Wild Board will send its policy to Revenue Commissioner Lamberth on how she will start sending them their tax bill. Then, hopefully in October, he said they will get their tax bill and send a check to Coosa County for that.
Robbins also noted that plans and measures are in place, as ensured by Chambliss and him, in case Forever Wild does not follow through.
Commission Chair Randall Dunham thanked Robbins for everything he does for Coosa County with the House of Representatives. Circuit Judge David Law also thanked Robbins and mentioned he did a “good job” on achieving this step with Forever Wild, with Robbins saying that Lamberth did a good job on it, as well.
While Robbins was present, Commissioner Unzell Kelley brought up Flagg Mountain in Weogufka and the Pinhoti Trail, as well as the ongoing issue with possibly extending the Appalachian Trail terminus to Mount Cheaha.
“It’s an issue I’m ready to go to fight for y’all for,” Robbins said. “It would destroy the Pinhoti if they moved the A.T. into Cheaha. So if they’re going to bring it down, they need to bring it all the way down, but I would prefer them not even bring it, just leave it in Georgia. …The Pinhoti stands by itself. They don’t ‘need’ the Appalachian Trail.”
During public comment, the commission heard from Devlynne Barnes regarding County Road 19 and concerns with multiple potholes and dangerous conditions on the 1-and-a-half-mile stretch of road.
Also during the meeting, regarding agenda items that were for discussion only and did not involve action taken, the commission heard from Marty Rittmann and Extension Coordinator Sharon Haynes regarding the Children’s Policy Council and encouraging at least one commissioner to attend the CPC monthly meetings. Additionally, the commission heard from Circuit Judge Law and Judge of Probate Richard Dean concerning proposed courthouse security updates such as parking spaces, door locks, gates, gate locks, and an employee entrance as things to consider for possible implementation.
In other business, regarding action items, the commission unanimously approved:
- Adopting a resolution to participate in the 2022 “Back to School” sales tax holiday, which will be July 15-17.
- Renewing County Administrator Amy Gilliland’s contract for four years at the specified rate represented in the contract, with Chair Dunham stating that Gilliland is “doing a good job.”
- Sending out bids for the Department of Human Resources’ roof project and opening those bids on June 14.
- To amend opening bids for the county-wide ambulance from May 24 to June 14.
- Adopting a resolution for the expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the purchase of 26 poll pads with receipt printer, case, poll pad software, license, and 2-year maintenance fee from KNOWiNK LLC., totaling $29,230.
- Rescheduling the next evening meeting from May 24 to May 26 because of the primary election being held May 24.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Coosa County Commission will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 10.