The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 25, 2013

Legislative office to open soon

By Jean Cole

— By Jean Cole

Residents of Athens and Limestone County will soon have a local office to go to when they want to reach the people elected to represent them in Montgomery.

State Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens, told The News Courier Thursday that a new legislative office should open by next month off Hobbs Street in Athens. At the office, residents can obtain information about state programs and laws, get questions answered by representatives, or get messages or concerns to the five men elected to represent Limestone County without having to call each one, though they may still do that if they wish.

Williams said the two-room office would be in a strip mall across from Athens State University that used to house Athco. Athens State University leased the office to the delegation for $6,000 a year.

One office worker will be hired to staff the office during the regular session and possibly at other times.

“We don’t have the office worker yet, (but) we will be advertising for applicants,” Williams said, adding that he was unsure what the person’s salary would be.

Once the office worker is  selected and the office is ready, the delegation will advertise its opening.

“We had hoped to have it open before the session opened, but we are going to try to get it open in the next month,” said Williams, who believes the office will be helpful to residents.

“They won’t have to track us down, especially when the Legislature is in session,” he said, noting that the office worker could supply callers or visitors to the office with the information or forms they need rather than have to wait to get it from a legislator who is in session.

Who’s paying the rent?

The money to rent the office has already been set aside. It comes from a fund created because Alabama  buys its power from the Tennessee Valley Authority. Instead of paying taxes to the states to which it supplies power, the TVA pays the states an annual lump-sum payment, which lawmakers and other call the in-lieu-of-tax fund.

The state divides the money it receives from TVA  among counties receiving TVA power. The money goes to the Limestone County Commission, which disperses it to the city of Athens, city and county schools and to various agencies. State law sets forth who receives what share of the money, though there is some discretionary spending allowed when city and county needs arise.

A change in the law allowed the local legislative delegation, which receives part of the TVA money, to spend a portion of it to create the local legislative office and to offer economic development grants.