Madison County Commission FY2009 Budget

The Madison County Commission is developing the Budget for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009.

Madison County Commission Budget Hearings are set for June 24 and 25, the mornings of both days. — Madison County Courthouse, 7th floor, Commission Boardroom.

Here’s the most recent budget posted (FY2007) at the Madison County website.

Gas, jail are big items in county budget

Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie (D) said it’s too early to know how much tax money will be available to spend in the fiscal year… The county’s General Fund budget should grow from the current $37.3 million…

The county collected $168.5 million in property taxes in 2007, up $20.2 million from the year before. Property taxes, which provide about half of the county’s operating budget, have been growing steadily since Alabama switched to yearly property reappraisals in 2003. The average annual increase has been $14.6 million.

But not all of that money goes to the County Commission. The state, local schools and the Huntsville, Madison, New Hope, Gurley, Triana and Owens Cross Roads city councils also get a cut.

Commissioner Bob Harrison (D) makes some good suggestions (note that the City of Huntsville has weekly garbage pickup):

Commissioner Bob Harrison, D-Huntsville, said the county may have to switch to weekly garbage pickup to save fuel. Now, neighborhoods in Madison and some parts of the unincorporated county get twice-weekly service… He said he also wants to talk to Alabama A&M University about making biodiesel fuel for county garbage trucks.


Agencies seek budget boosts:

…The board has until Sept. 30 to adopt a budget for fiscal 2008-09… Almost every county department and agency – about 40 in all – is asking commissioners for a budget bump…

…Mental Health Center of Madison County… has requested $75,000 from the county, which (MHC Director) Davis said would provide 20 to 25 people with therapy for a year. (Madison County Commissioner Faye) Dyer (R) said the agency is a good deal for taxpayers, because it keeps mentally ill people from ending up in jail and hospital psychiatric wards on the public’s dime. 


Committee on Water Policy and Management

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.

- Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

From A History of Water Rights at Common Law, by Joshua Getzler, which is now on my Xmas List (only $50 at Amazon):

Water resources were central to England’s precocious economic development in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, and then again in the industrial, transport, and urban revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Each of these periods saw a great deal of legal conflict over water rights, often between domestic, agricultural, and manufacturing interests competing for access to flowing water. From 1750 the common-law courts developed a large but unstable body of legal doctrine, specifying strong property rights in flowing water attached to riparian possession, and also limited rights to surface and underground waters.

The new water doctrines were built from older concepts of common goods and the natural rights of ownership, deriving from Roman and Civilian law, together with the English sources of Bracton and Blackstone. Water law is one of the most Romanesque parts of English law, demonstrating the extent to which Common and Civilian law have commingled.

Alabama water rights are determined under Riparian Rights for surface waters.  The United Kingdom and most U.S. States East of the Mississippi River follow Riparian Rights (derived from English Common Law); most Western States use the Prior Appropriation doctrine.  Basically, water is owned by the Government (Federal and State), so proper stewardship of this public resource is a function of Government.

Riparian water rights occur as a result of landownership. A landowner who owns land that physically touches a river, stream, pond, or lake has an equal right to the use of water from that source. This water right, however, is only a usufructuary right and not a property right in the water. The water may be used as it passes through the property of the land owner, but it cannot be unreasonably detained or diverted, and it must be returned to the stream from which it was obtained. The use of riparian water rights is generally regulated by “reasonable use.”  

The prior appropriation doctrine (also known as the Colorado Doctrine from Wyoming v. Colorado), or “first in time – first in right”, developed in the western United States in response to the scarcity of water in the region.

Legislative committee takes first step toward water policy

The Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management met at Auburn University in its first meeting since being formed this spring. The committee is made up of seven members each from the House and Senate.

Its members at the meeting chose State Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, chairman and Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills vice chairman. The pair sponsored the legislation that created the committee… the group is to recommend a water management plan that expands the availability of water to meet Alabama’s current and future needs, develop conservation programs, and identify areas where more research is needed.

Workshop sessions are being led by officials from Auburn’s Water Resources Center, the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, the Geological Survey of Alabama, the Alabama Office of Water Resources, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Investing in state’s waterways, by State Senator Kim Benefield (D – Woodland) and State Representative Greg Canfield (R – Birmingham):

Created by the passage of SJR28 — bipartisan legislation we were pleased to sponsor — the committee met at Auburn University to begin the process of studying Alabama’s water resources and assessing our future water needs…

Our recognition of the many critical roles water plays in Alabama spurred us to sponsor SJR28, and now we are committed — as chair and vice-chair of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management — to developing a consensus-based water-management plan that takes into account the needs of every Alabamian and serves our citizens well in the future.


Sales Tax Update

The Huntsville Times article Sales tax hike unlikely in cities provides the following opinions and quotes from public officials (thanks to The Times for getting them on record):

Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer has not considered asking the council to approve one.

(Madison) Mayor Sandy Kirkindall said with 57 percent of Madison residents voting against the recently proposed half-cent sales tax, it was clear to him that Madison residents don’t want it.

“I’m not in favor of raising taxes on the people, certainly not with everything going out of sight like gasoline and food prices,” said (Huntsville) Councilwoman Sandra Moon.

(Huntsville) Councilman Bill Kling said the nearly 2-to-1 defeat of the sales tax, coupled with the city’s special tax districts that have provided more than $75 million in recent years for new and renovated city schools, also makes him not inclined to support a sales tax hike.

(Huntsville) Council President Glenn Watson wants to know specifically how city schools would spend the money before committing to a position on a higher city sales tax… he’s more in favor of helping schools with a TIF (tax increment financing) plan than with additional sales taxes.

(Huntsville) Councilman Mark Russell seemed receptive to a sales tax hike for schools, but only if the money is shared for other city needs such as roads and improvements to the Von Braun Center… “I’d like to see the school system make some changes, which they seem to be in the process of doing with consolidating schools and maximizing their resources”.

(Madison) Councilwoman Cynthia McCollum said she believes that for a sales tax increase to work it would have to be a regional effort.  “I think what has perhaps been lacking is that all of us, the County Commission, Huntsville and Madison all need to sit down together and hammer out a solution to this problem and if that solution means a collective sales tax for the entire region then I would support it”.

(Madison) Council President Steve Haraway said based on how Madison residents voted on the issue in the June 3 election that he would not support a city sales tax increase.

(Madison) Councilman Jerry Jennings said he has serious reservations about the consequences of a unilateral sales tax increase…  He said if Huntsville agreed to it, he’d have no problem following suit.

(Madison) Councilman Tim Cowles said he’d rather see a citywide ad valorem increase. “I just don’t think a sales tax increase is a good idea,” Cowles said. “And the reason why is because we can float bonds against ad valorem taxes and if it’s going to be used for infrastructure, really the way to do it is through bonds.” Cowles said regardless, he’d want it to go before the residents for a vote.

(Madison) Councilman Tommy Overcash said he believes after the results of the recent election that “I would really have to look at all the information before making a decision.”  “It hasn’t been asked for yet and I know they’re regrouping and looking at their options and who knows, it could be a countywide push for an ad valorem tax increase…”

(Madison) Councilman Larry Vannoy said he wants to understand more about the financial straits the system is facing before he gets into a sales tax conversation. “I’d like to see what other solutions might be out there and have a public debate on the issue,” Vannoy said. “If the public is going to support it, I think they need to be more informed and be assured that it will fix the problem.”

(Madison) Councilman Bob Wagner said he would only support it if a vote of the people showed they wanted it.  “In the recent election it was overwhelmingly shot down by residents of Madison”.

Madison School Board President Sue Helms said she expects the board will approach city leaders about a city sales tax increase after the Aug. 26 elections. Regardless of what happens, she said the portables that will be needed at Bob Jones High School will be put out front, not hidden behind the school.

Keep in mind that Municipal Elections are coming soon… August 26.


 The Madison County Record in Commission fends off talk of tax increase gets the Madison County Commission on the record (thank you to the Record):

Commissioner Roger Jones, District 1, said he wanted to put an end to the rumors the commission may pass the tax even though the voters had said no… “The voters voted and they voted overwhelmingly in support of not putting this tax on, almost two to one, and I respect that vote”.

Commissioner Faye Dyer, District 2, agreed she would not vote for a sales tax increase unless the voters of Madison County approved it as well. “The people have spoken”.

Commissioner Bob Harrison, District 6, said he would entertain the idea of a sales tax but he would have to see how it would benefit the people of his district. “The caveat that my district has given to me is that there should be a no vote unless there is something in it for them”.

Commissioner Mo Brooks, District 5, wanted to see if there was any way to lock down the tax so it would not come before the commission again during the next four years…  “If there had been a way for us to do that it would have been important for us to do that so the school boards will know that they need to address their problems with their mayor and their city council’s”.


Court of Criminal Appeals – Candidates

Beth Kellum faces Lucie McLemore in the GOP Primary Run-off for Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 1. Kellum got 34% of the vote in the Primary, McLemore got 24%, Peggy Givhan lost with 22%, and Teresa Petelos lost with 21%. The winner faces Democrat Clyde Jones in the General Election.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals is “composed of five judges, one of whom is elected by the members of the court to serve as presiding judge. The Court of Criminal Appeals hears all appeals of felony and misdemeanor cases, including violations of city ordinances and all post-conviction writs in criminal cases”.

Beth Kellum:

…served as an Assistant Attorney General; staff attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals; private law practitioner for seven years, and as a  senior staff attorney for the Alabama Supreme Court.

Lucie McLemore:

…private law practice in Montgomery with her father… District Court of Montgomery County, winning primary and general elections in 2000.


Just had the pleasure of hearing both candidates present 5 minute speeches.  Both candidates gave great speeches; both noted their Conservative approach; either of them would make a fine Appeals Court judge.

Beth Kellum noted her work as Staff Attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals and her work with the Republican Party.  She spoke of her legal opinion-writing experience and knowledge of the Court and Court Administration. 

Her handout headline: “Fair, Experienced, Conservative”.

Lucie McLemore said she was a Conservative like Ronald Reagan, Mo Brooks, and Faye Dyer.  She received applause when she noted that as a District Judge, she actually made criminals pay their fines and restitution (collected $1.5 million).  She also noted her work with the Republican Party. 

Her handout headline: “Experienced, Fair, Conservative”.


Public Service Commission President – Candidates

Twinkle Andress Cavanuagh and Matt Chancey are candidates in the GOP Primary Run-off for President of the Alabama Public Service Commission.  Cavanaugh received 47% of the GOP vote; Chancey received 29%; Jack Hornady lost with 24%.  The winner of the run-off faces Democrat Lucy Baxley in the General Election.

The PSC mission is “to ensure a regulatory balance between regulated companies and consumers in order to provide consumers with safe, adequate and reliable services at rates that are equitable and economical”. 

The PSC evolved from the Railroad Commission and regulates: “railroads… express companies, sleeping car companies, railroad depot or terminal stations, telephone and telegraph companies, plus transportation companies operating as common carriers over water, toll bridges, toll ferries, and toll roads… utilities providing electricity, gas, water, and steam, companies operating streets or inter-urban railways… approving the sale or lease of utility property or franchises… utility rates… motor transportation companies… Air carriers… natural gas transmission and distribution systems… radio common carriers… railroad tracks and equipment”.

The PSC regulates Energy (Electricity, Natural Gas, and Water) Companies like Alabama Power, Mobile Gas Service, and Hiwanee Water; Telecommunications Companies like Bellsouth; Gas Pipelines like Enbridge Pipelines; and thousands of Motor Carriers (Trucking, Towing, Buses, Limos, Cabs).

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh:

Elected Chairman Alabama Republican Party, served as Senior Advisor to Governor Bob Riley, served as State Director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Matt Chancey:

The Chancey Five-Point Plan to Improve the Public Service Commission

1.  Nuclear Power Expansion

2.  Clean Coal and Other Fossil Fuels

3.  Hydro-electric Expansion

4.  Supporting Economic Development

5.  PSC Performance Review


Just had the pleasure of hearing five minute speeches by both candidates.

Twinkle Cavanaugh noted her experience with Citizens for a Sound Economy and as a Senior Advisor to Governor Riley, working with the Alabama Development Office, EMA, and Homeland Security.  She tied her experience to issues facing the PSC, for example noting that one of the key factors in the Thyssen-Kruppe decision to locate the steel plant in Mobile was lower utility rates. She also noted her work as the Chair of the Alabama Republican Party.

Matt Chancey said he wanted to “Mo Brooksify” the PSC.  He noted that the PSC should educate consumers about nuclear power, and he supports the TVA Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.  He said that the PSC should examine their policies as part of a Performance Review of the agency. He also noted his work with the Republican Party (Vice-Chair Dale County Executive Committee).


Madison County Board of Education Needs Your Tax Money

The Huntsville Times reports that the ” Madison County Board of Education is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in a retreat at the Marriott Shoals Hotel in Florence”. “Superintendent Terry Davis has pointed out the already-overcrowded district has $160 million in needs today…”

I guess one of the needs is for the Board to take a two-day meeting in Florence, staying at an “elegant” “spa resort”.  Will the school principals (“seek input from principals”) shlep over to Florence and back or do they get “plush guest rooms” too? More:

Adding to their concerns are cuts in Alabama’s Education Budget for the 2008-09 year. The district already knows it can expect 3 percent less overall from the state program that pays for teachers and other instructional needs. And there will likely be an 8 percent cut in transportation funds.

Madison County Schools held a similar retreat at the same location last year.

Note that the Times URL page is aptly named: “madison_county_school_board_ho”.

The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa “invites you to experience a new level of refinement and charm among hotels in Florence, Alabama. Plush guest rooms feature comfortable luxury and modern conveniences, as well as private balconies providing stunning views of the river… Indulge in a lavish treatment at this Alabama spa resort, offering the pinnacle of rejuvenation”.


John Ehinger of the Huntsville Times says Let’s annex the Marriott Shoals:

For reasons I can’t quite fathom, every time the Madison County or City of Madison school boards go on retreat, they hop in their cars and race to the Marriott Shoals, where for a few days, apparently, they engage in the kind of heart-to-heart dialogue they seem unable to engage in here.

I guess they sit in a circle on folding chairs and wail about how the people just don’t understand. But I don’t know.

In short, they take serious discussions of a serious issue – public education – out of the community they serve. And while the sessions (because of that darned state open-meetings law) are open to the public, how many parents can drop what they’re doing, find supervision for their kids and follow the entourage out of town for a few days?

The latest to frolic at the Shoals Marriott was the Madison County school board and other school officials. Superintendent Terry Davis was careful to note that the money spent was mostly federal money. That means, I assume, that it arrives from Mars every other week by bus and is thus paid by Martians and not by Alabamians or Americans.

I have a lot of respect for Ehinger’s professionalism, and now I’m gaining more respect for his humor as well.  Madison County Schools Superintendent Davis just got schooled; let’s hope he realizes it…

The Flint River and the EPA and Poo

The Clean Water Act of 1972 Section 305 established biennial reporting to Congress, called the National Water Quality Inventory.  The EPA gathers river water quality assessments using 305-(b) Reports (the latest online assessment data for the Flint River is 2004).  For lakes, the similar report is the 314 Report.  If a river is “impaired” then it goes on a State list called the 303(d) List.

Here’s the EPA calling the Flint River a Success Story:

Runoff from agricultural activities and urbanization contributed to organic enrichment and dissolved oxygen (DO) impairments in the lower mainstem of the Flint River in Alabama. The implementation of best management practices (BMPs) and stakeholder education and outreach enhanced water quality and helped the Flint River meet the water quality standards associated with its designated water use classifications. As a result, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) expects to remove a 28-mile segment of the Flint River from the state’s 2006 303(d) list of impaired waters.

The 20 mile stretch of the Flint River from the Tennessee River to Big Cove Creek 305(b) Report:

Water Quality Attainments

State Designated Use Attainment Status Threatened

Causes of Impairment 

State Impairment EPA Impairment Classification

Probable Sources Contributing to Impairment

The sources listed below may contribute to one or more of the above-listed impairments.

State Source EPA Source Classification

The 7 mile stretch of the Flint River from Big Cove Creek to Hurricane Creek 305(b) Report:

Causes of Impairment

State Impairment EPA Impairment Classification

Probable Sources Contributing to Impairment

The sources listed below may contribute to one or more of the above-listed impairments.

State Source EPA Source Classification

The 15 mile stretch of the Flint River from Alabama Highway 72 to Mountain Fork 305(b) Report:

Causes of Impairment

State Impairment EPA Impairment Classification

Probable Sources Contributing to Impairment

State Source EPA Source Classification

After reading these summary reports, my first thought is: eww, I know what “organic enrichment” and “pathogens” are and I might have gotten some on me.  It’s Cow Poo. And probably some People Poo, too, from failing septic tanks.

I called the local hero of the EPA Success Story mentioned above, our Flint River Watershed Coordinator, to learn more (important facts like he’s an Auburn grad).

Organic Enrichment means excessive nutrients such as fertilizer, manure (Poo!), and organic matter; the nutrients cause algae to bloom which suck all the air out of the river (oxygen depletion). Urban runoff is pretty much what you’d expect, and then some: dirt, gas / oil, fertilizers, pesticides, road grime, and whatever else that makes it into the gutters.  Pathogens are high counts of harmful bacteria, like fecal coliforms / enterococcus (Poo!).

I’ll do a follow-up post to describe the horrors of the State 303(d) List, which includes DDT, Mercury, and Arsenic in Huntsville Spring Branch (the big creek next to the soccer fields at the old airport).

Flint River Clean Up

The Flint River Conservation Association, the City Of Huntsville Operation Green Team, and WAAY TV  sponsored the Flint River Clean Up today as part of the National River Clean Up. Thanks to The Huntsville Times for promoting the Clean Up in Thursday’s newspaper.

Turn out was good, with about 40 people showing up to canoe and pick up trash. City Ecologist Soos Weber was well-prepared with canoes from Redstone Arsenal, gloves, grabbers, trash bags, and plenty of water and sunscreen.  I got to meet some great people, including a like-minded fellow from Harvest who enjoys helping Mother Gaia by clearing brush with his chainsaw.

WAAY TV (Channel 31) sent their new reporter Haley Baker to cover the Clean Up, which should air tonight.  They got some great footage of the pile of garbage - just imagine what that pile would be like in smell-e-vision.

Most of the Flint River Watershed lies within Madison County District 1 (Roger Jones – D) and District 3 (Jerry Craig – D), with just a little bit of District 5 (Mo Brooks – R). 

Mo Brooks was kind enough to respond to the Flashpoint Madison County Commission questionnaire, which asked about “protecting the Flint River”:

Two things can be done to help protect the Flint River. First, Madison County needs a sewage system that will help minimize pollution of ground water supplies and storm runoff into the Flint River. Second, Madison County needs the power to restrict or prevent siphoning of water from the Flint River during low water flow periods.

Bob Long, GOP candidate for District 1, was also kind enough to respond:

I live directly on the Flint River, my family and I canoe, fish and swim in the Flint River so I have a vested interest in protecting this valuable natural resource. I will work hand-in-hand with conservationists to make sure the river is clean, safe and environmentally balanced (new construction, industrial growth, and recreation). I would ensure that as necessary, I will provide support to some of the volunteer and state organizations that are chartered to preserve the Flint River such as; the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Flint River Conservation Association (FRCA).

Protecting our natural heritage is good public policy.


Order of the Day

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order of the Day, June 6, 1944


“I am not a Marxist”

“I am not a Marxist.” – Karl Marx

My best friend called to talk about the primaries.  He is a Democrat and calls himself a liberal.  The Presidential race came up and I stated that I would not vote for Barack Obama, who I described as a socialist with Marxist associations. My friend protested that I was name-calling and that we couldn’t have a serious discussion if I couldn’t get past the labeling. 

Yes, unfortunately, my friend is that predictable – Daily Kos, Keith Olbermann, HuffPo, etc. I don’t understand it (the liberalism), because he’s a smart guy and I’ve known him almost my whole life. The labeling argument, or social reaction theory, is a liberal technique used to disarm critics by preventing them from using stigmatizing terms (just like Marx then – he was above it all, and just like Obama now).

Note Obama’s associations with Trinity Church and Liberation Theology (Marxist), his association with Weatherman terrorists (Marxist), his embrace of the New Party (Marxist) in his first State Senate campaign, and his mentor Frank Davis (Marxist), the ‘Frank’ mentioned in Obama’s book Dreams of my Father.

This pattern of associations shows a high level of comfort with radical socialist ideas and people that I find repugnant and dangerous.

Here’s a nice tidbit from the ‘New Party’, on their website Chicago Democratic Socialists of America:

…the NP’s ’96 Political Program has been enormously successful with 3 of 4 endorsed candidates winning electoral primaries. All four candidates attended the NP membership meeting on April 11th to express their gratitude… Barack Obama, victor in the 13th State Senate District, encouraged NPers to join in his task forces on Voter Education and Voter Registration.

It bothers me that many people have been demoralized and brainwashed to the point that they won’t acknowledge a fact if it kicked them in the ass. Like the Old Moor himself said: “I am not a Marxist”.