Cunningham challenges county

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Earl Cunningham has placed his political future as Shelby County Commissioner on the line with a demand for support of two projects he believes are crucial to his constituents.

During the Oct. 25 commission meeting, Cunningham stepped down from the commission dais and walked out of the meeting when he failed to get a second for a resolution.

The resolution was a request for $8,000 in support of the Kids First Community Learning Center in Alabaster.

Cunningham vowed not to cooperate with fellow commissioners until the request is met.

&uot;I want to see the agency funded $8,000, nothing less,&uot; he said. &uot;If it causes ruffled feathers, I don’t care.&uot;

Earlier in October, the commissioner for District 2 in Shelby County declared that he will resign after two years if he is unable to secure funding for a new sewer line in the Almont community near Montevallo.

According to Cunningham, he figures that if he is unable to get results for his constituents after two years, then half a term is all he will serve.

&uot;I don’t want to be in an agency or organization where I’m ineffective,&uot; he said.

Cunningham said the Almont sewer line would provide sewer service for 27 families and will cost about $550,000. He called the current situation in Almont a public health hazard, with sewage leaking above ground in certain areas.

&uot;It’s an environmental hazard waiting to happen,&uot; Cunningham said.

The push for a sewer line in Almont began under the term of late District Two Commissioner George Dailey of Montevallo.

Commissioners told Dailey, and now Cunningham, that the county needs a match of federal or state money and that the city of Montevallo must tie in to the Almont line.

The problem with funding KidsFirst may be a misunderstanding of the financial obligations of the commission, according to Don Armstrong, chairman of the commission finance committee. Armstrong said the county’s new, $77 million budget contains about $35 million of earmarked funds.

The county has an obligation under the state constitution to fund certain projects first, Armstrong said.

&uot;Our fiscal responsibility is to take care of certain things.

We do a lot more than other counties in the state as far as funding outside agencies. We just don’t have enough money to fund them all,&uot; Armstrong said.

&uot;You could get to a point where you are funding all outside agencies but not funding your own departments.&uot;

The commission addresses any funding requests by outside agencies such as KidsFirst, but the commission has not added any new outside agencies to the budget in 11 years, Armstrong said.

The county’s finance manager, Butch Burbage, confirmed that the county has not funded KidsFirst in the past. During this year’s budget hearings in July, Burbage said five other new requests for funding by outside agencies were also denied. In addition to not adding new outside agencies to the budget, Burbage said commissioners decided to level funding to the ones provided for in the past.

&uot;Their instructions to me as finance manager were to level funding,&uot; he said.

According to Cunningham, the budget could be amended to create money for the KidsFirst funding request. The budget had enough of a surplus to spare the $8,000, he said.

&uot;We’re all fiscal conservatives. I would never vote for a budget deficit,&uot; Cunningham said. &uot;The money was there. Let’s get it out.&uot;

For now, Cunningham has vowed to stand up for the constituents of District Two, which includes the Almont community.

Cunningham referred to a community meeting following a murder last month in Almont in which sheriff’s deputies recovered six guns. Cunningham said a community center such as KidsFirst, which operates in Alabaster, could help stem such violence in neighborhoods.

&uot;I’ll be glad when it’s over.

Just fund the agency,&uot; Cunningham said of his dispute with fellow commissioners. &uot;Let’s move on to a brighter day and look forward to what’s coming down the pipe.