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Vote to help rid county of nuisances

By By Adam Prestridge
A measure on the November ballot, if passed, will give the Escambia County Commission the ability to be more effective and responsive in county issues and will lessen Montgomery's power to decide matters that are important to rural residents of the county.
"This referendum is important to the residents of our county that live in unincorporated areas," said David Stokes, county commission chairman. "There are areas of concern among those rural residents that the commission does not have any control over, but this referendum, if passed, would give us limited self-governing abilities."
The areas of concern the county hopes to gain some control over include weeds, junkyards, liter and rubbish, noise, pollution, unsanitary sewage and animal control.
The work of the commission was put into action some two to three years ago Stokes said.
"We got word that a big party was planned in a community in the county," Stokes said. "We got calls from people in the area with many concerns on the matter, but we didn't have any way to stop it since having a party is not illegal."
The referendum on next month's ballot will give the commission a leg-up on being able to act on such matters.
"If a large group of people decide to throw a party and play music until 2 or 3 a.m., this act would give us the authority to put a stop to it," Stokes said. "This (act) would give us the ability to take the right steps to eliminate nuisances of all kinds. It is about property protection and the rights of property owners, not control."
Junked cars have proven to be a nuisance in some areas of the county Stokes said.
"We have people who have beautiful property in our county," Stokes said. "But when someone pulls in two or 20 junk cars, there is nothing we can do about it. It's not against the law to have junk cars in your yard. With this act, the county would be able to eliminate those junkyard-type situations for residents."
Stokes said that the county would also be able to approach rural residents concerning overgrown weeds and sewage problems if the act passes.
"We are not able to act on many safety and health related nuisances," Stokes said. "If we see an area with overgrown weeds that could be a rat or snake haven, we can have something done about it. If someone has an unsanitary sewage problem and they won't fix the problem, we could do something about it if the act passes. Right now, there is nothing that gives us the ability to act on those problems in the county."
The list of actions the commission cannot take is actually longer than the list of powers they would receive as the result of a passed act.
"We (commission) would not be given any authority to levy any taxes or establish a planning and zoning program," Stokes said. "The cities in our county have the ability to add sales taxes and ad valorem taxes, but we couldn't do that."
The legislation specifically prohibits the county from taking any action inside a city's limits, since municipal government handles all ordinances and abatements within their respective cities.
"The only people this would have any effect on would be those who are residents of unincorporated areas of the county," Stokes said. "Because of that, those people will be the only people who will be able to vote on this measure."
For more than 100 years in Alabama, local voters have been blocked because the power to make decisions has largely rested in the halls of the state Legislature in Montgomery, according to information from the Alabama County Commission Association. This new law has given voters the ability to return control of the local communities back to the local level.
When voters go to the polls on November 7, they will be given an opportunity to choose yes or no on the act. The ballot will read: "Shall the provisions of Act No. 2005-200 which authorizes the county to abate certain health and safety nuisances that are applicable in the unincorporated areas of Escambia County?"
Five counties in Alabama have already passed such an act as the one facing Escambia County voters. Those counties passing the act include and the voting records are Autauga, Dallas, Jackson, Marshall and Mobile. Counties with the act on the November ballot are Bibb, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Escambia, Macon, Madison, Monroe, Montgomery, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa.