We in Jefferson County are so intent on staying divided that we’re willing to suffer financial disruption and the unfortunate consequences.
Instead of working together to create a great region, we put ourselves in risky financial situations and wonder how we got there.
Let’s start off with Cardiff.
Cardiff is the smallest town in Jefferson County with about 47 residents.
According to Fox6, the residents of Cardiff are in a legal battle over dissolving their town.
A resident, Patty Johnson, has complained for years about city services. She worries whether Cardiff has the resources to fix various problems. “I would love for Cardiff to stay Cardiff, I just don’t see how financially they can make it happen,” she said.
Debra Smith, another resident, was quoted in AL.com, “The town doesn’t have fire hydrants. There’s confusion on who to call for fire service and when a train stops on the tracks.”
A court hearing was held, but Shirley Mitchell, the Cardiff Town Clerk, says most of those in Cardiff prefer to continue to remain a town. A petition has been launched with about 15 names on it to keep the town running.
There will likely be a court hearing in March or April.
According to Al.com, Fairfield Mayor Edward May said several city buildings have been shut down, but the city council has denied that claim.
A notice was posted saying “the Fairfield City Council voted to defund personnel positions, leaving Fairfield city hall, the municipal magistrate’s office, civic center and parks and recreation department closed until further notice.”
Fairfield has struggled financially since Walmart, which produced about 40% of the city’s sales tax revenue, closed in January 2016. Burlington Coat Factory closed the next year and then tornadoes destroyed several businesses in June.
At one point, the city almost abandoned its police department.
It has been announced that Sam’s Club on Grants Mill Road in Irondale is about to close.
Irondale Mayor Charles Moore told AL.com that the store’s closure is “going to have a huge impact” on the city’s revenue since Sam’s Club is the city’s largest generator of sales tax. The store was also the closest the city had to a grocery store.
No need to consolidate governments
Jefferson County is comprised of 35 separate municipalities– all competing with one another.
We have 35 mayors, 53 fire departments, and 24 police departments—plus the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department.
But we don’t have to consolidate our cities into one–we have other options.
Charlotte North Carolina
We can follow the lead of Charlotte.
According to a recent Community Foundation report, “Charlotte is held up nationally as a model of functional consolidation as a means of regional cooperation. Instead of consolidating governments, the elected bodies remain intact, but the governments of the city and the county divide up responsibilities for certain services.”
“Through multiple interlocal agreements, which are, in essence, contracts between governments, the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have consolidated all major government services, giving the responsibility for some, such as police, fire and transit, to the city government and others, such as building inspection, tax collection and operation and development of parks to the county government.
The City and the County share a building and use the same chambers for city council meetings and county commission meetings.
This arrangement avoids duplication of services and administration in an attempt to deliver those services efficiently.”
Like Birmingham, Greater Denver experienced a proliferation of independent suburban communities surrounding the central city. Recognizing the futility of forcing combinations of those governments, Denver devised a regional approach that united Greater Denver in cooperative ventures.
“Denver currently enjoys a reputation as a hot city, a destination for job creation and innovation. The region’s current prosperity has been built on the work of more than three decades of regional cooperation. And this carefully and incrementally built regional cooperation came in response to what had been a prevailing trend toward Balkanization and central city decline.”
One of these initiatives is the Mile High Compact—an agreement among 45 communities and mayors in the region to collaborate on economic development opportunities and not pilfer businesses from one another.
How will we react?
Our hope should be that our municipalities find a way to collaborate rather than to compete with one another.
My guess, however, is that today the leadership of Irondale is secretly meeting behind closed doors to craft a plan to steal a tax producing business from Birmingham or Hoover to make up for the lost Sam’s club revenue.
Irondale may feel that’s their only option—but that’s not good for any of us.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org