By Rep. Craig Ford
Every day I run into people who tell me how much they want Etowah County to have its own sports complex. And in almost every single one of these conversations, I always get asked, “But Craig, do you really think we will ever actually get it done?”
I do believe we will get it done. But it will get done a lot quicker and easier if the Etowah County Commission will get on board.
The people of Etowah County and our surrounding communities have made it clear that they want the mega sports complex. And every single one of our local municipal governments have stepped up and worked hard to help make this sports complex a reality. The only holdout has been the Etowah County Commission.
It doesn’t seem to be an issue with spending the money. The commission has been more than willing to spend millions of dollars on their industrial park mega site, even though it’s really more of a mega swamp than a mega site.
Before the mega swamp can become an industrial park mega site, the county will have to spend – at a minimum – $22 million dollars just to prepare the location for future construction. That $22 million dollars would be used to construct an access road, and doesn’t even include the costs of installing the sewer and water lines, site grading or any environmental mediation. Environmental regulations are always changing, so mediation will be a possibility right up until construction begins.
In addition to the millions of dollars the commission wants to spend on construction, it wants to waste $60,000 for a part-time consultant to promote the project, since the commission has not actually lined up any businesses to come to the industrial park if it ever gets built. This is a complete waste of money, because the Alabama Department of Commerce already does this and it won’t cost us anything.
So the commission is perfectly fine with spending millions of dollars on a gamble that it might bring business, even though there hasn’t been a single business that has committed to coming or, to my knowledge, even expressed an interest in coming.
But the commission has stonewalled the rest of Etowah County when it comes to making the investments necessary to get a bond issue for a mega sports complex. The commissioners apparently are more interested in a mega swamp than a mega sports complex for our children and adults who want to play recreational sports.
If the Etowah County Commission won’t do it’s job, then our legislative delegation needs to step in and secure the funding for the mega sports complex by reallocating the commission’s portion of the one-percent sales tax.
My father originally passed the one-percent sales tax with the intention that it was supposed to be temporary and used specifically for one project – the construction of a new jail that was desperately needed.
But in the years since the jail was completed, the commission has kept the sales tax and used it for other projects.
If the commission insists on wasting that money on a mega swamp, then our legislative delegation should step and reallocate those funds back to the people by investing in the mega sports complex.
Or, if the delegation would rather keep politics out of the mega sports complex, we should reallocate the funds to other local road and bridge projects. There are far better uses for those millions of dollars than literally throwing them into a swamp.
A better use of that money would be to invest in projects like the Southside bridge, completing the four-laning of U.S. Hwy. 411 and State Hwy. 77, or the extension of I-759. We could even split the money between all of these projects and make real progress that would improve the lives of the people of Etowah County.
But if we don’t fix our roads and bridges, no one will want to bring their business to an industrial park mega site in the first place. And while there are no guarantees that the mega swamp will ever recruit even a single business, we know that the mega sports complex will generate business and tax revenue in Etowah County.
I sincerely hope that the Etowah County Commission will step up and do its part to help make the mega sports complex a reality. But if the commission continues to holdout and put this project at risk, our legislative delegation will have no choice but to step in.
State Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.