County leadership hopes to increase authority over ‘no-brainers’

Published 10:45pm Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Dallas County Commission would like more freedom in enacting ordinances and passing laws.

Currently, the county is required to seek legislative approval for many laws and ordinances. For example, a county-wide noise ordinance, passed by the commission last week, must be approved by the state Legislature before returning to the commission for a final vote.

“We have a great working relationship with our legislative delegation, but it’s ridiculous for us to have to ask for state approval for something that is strictly a no-brainer,” Ballard said.

The drawn out process has Ballard wondering if home rule could be the solution.

Home rule is the power of a county or municipality to exercise some of the state’s powers within its boundaries. Complete home rule would allow the county commission to increase or decrease taxes and pass ordinances and laws as it sees fit.

But Ballard isn’t interested in complete home rule. In fact, he said it’s unlikely to ever be granted to Dallas County. Instead he said the commission could use it to pass common-sense rules, like the noise ordinance.

“I see where in matters of taxation or issues like that, the legislature would not give up that power and I wouldn’t ask them to,” he said. “Things like noise pollution and trash cleanup that make sense. We know the issues in Dallas County, but right now you have to go through the legislative process to enact any law.”

The Legislature could grant his wish when the session begins in January, if the Association of County Commissions of Alabama is successful in its lobbying efforts.

The association met two weeks ago to develop its 2014 legislative program. During the meeting it developed a list of legislative priorities.

One of the ACCA’s priorities would grant counties administrative power without requiring legislative approval, if passed into law. The additional power would not include the power to tax or regulate land use, but would allow commissions to make decisions on how to run the county.

“We are generally aiming to improve the process that deals with improving local laws and lessen the number of local bills that are introduced,” ACCA executive director Sunny Brasfield said.

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