The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 21, 2012

Thanks for the help, but think about the future

The News Courier

— Kudos to the Limestone County Commission, which this week decided to offer a hand to residents in East Limestone whose property was affected by the March 2 tornadoes.

The county voted Monday to use $175,000 in TVA-in-lieu-of-tax funds to help clean up vegetative debris left on rights-of-way from the storms. Using a mix of contracted crews and county workers, debris will be taken to a site near the Limestone Correctional Facility to be mulched or burned.

County commissioners expressed concern that their actions could set a precedent for the future, and their trepidation is understandable. The state, and each of the state’s 67 counties, are still grappling to find ways to offer the public the same services with less revenue. Limestone is not immune.

However, the March 2 storms created additional hardships for some who still haven’t fully recovered — financially or psychologically — from the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak. In order for the county to qualify for public assistance funds from FEMA, the most recent storms would have had to cause about $6.5 million in damages. While residents and county officials are happy we did not receive anywhere near that amount of damage, the federal aid available after last year’s disaster was certainly appreciated.

Commissioners continue to convey that gasoline tax funds collected by the county can only be used for road repairs and maintenance. However, the county also sets an annual general fund budget each year that pays for all non-road-related projects, which includes salaries and other non-road expenditures.

The commission may want to create a discretionary emergency fund that can be used strictly for emergency purposes, including storm debris cleanup. If the fund is not used by the end of the annual cycle, the monies can be used for new warning sirens, weather radios for those with a limited income or new equipment for first responders.

We applaud the County Commission for its decision to help residents, however, we urge commissioners to think about the future. Tornadoes will continue to pose an inherent risk to those of us who live in North Alabama, but some thoughtful planning now could help us later.