Melton to ‘rethink’ legal action against county
By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE — The Trussville City Council in March 2014 voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Gene Melton to file a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Commission over which entity has the responsibility of maintaining county roads in the city’s limits.
“It needs to come to a head,” Melton said at the time.
His tune could now be changing.
On Dec. 4, 2014, Melton received a letter from Jefferson County CEO Tony Petelos, which stated that the commission is looking to team up with the city of Trussville for a “sustainable solution for the maintenance” of county roads and bridges within the city limits.
Melton responded to Petelos in a letter dated Dec. 16, 2014, first thanking him for reaching out to the city “in an effort to mend a relationship that should never have been compromised.”
How was the relationship compromised?
The Jefferson County Commission in June 2009 passed a resolution turning county roads located within cities’ limits over to the cities because of money troubles due to the loss of its occupational tax. A July 7, 1995 state statute, however, requires counties to be responsible for and maintain the roads. Melton, however, said implementing that resolution was contingent on cities approving their own resolution to accept responsibility for the roads. Trussville never did, he said.
The approved 2009 resolution stated that “effective immediately” the county “will not maintain any road or portion of road located in the city limits” of Trussville and Clay, among other Jefferson County cities. The resolution stated that the county “disclaims any road maintenance responsibility” for the cities.
Melton noted in his letter that the 2009 resolution “on the surface appears to be a step in the right direction” but when read closely, it “appears to perpetuate the dilemma that got us here in the first place — that the Commission believes it is empowered to decide for the cities which roads it will be responsible for and which ones it will not.”
Melton wrote in his letter that this is a “fundamental problem” and that the resolution “still seems to ignore that most fundamental part of the law.”
Melton asked in his letter that if the point of the resolution is to reaffirm the county’s responsibility over roads that were the commission’s responsibility as of July 7, 1995, then “we can accept that and move forward with a ‘sustainable solution’ to serve all Jefferson County Citizens within my City as well as the Unincorporated Areas of Jefferson County. Once we can clear that milestone I truly believe we can find that ‘sustainable solution’ through your efforts to mend what use to be a great relationship between the City and the Commission.”
Melton suggested that the foundation for an agreement between Trussville and the commission would be for the commission to retain ownership and to continue to be responsible for all Jefferson County roads and bridges within the city of Trussville by creating a memorandum of understanding by which Trussville would acknowledge the commission’s lack of funding and agree to work with the commission to help maintain Jefferson County roads and bridges within the city limits to the extent that it can.
Melton stated in the letter that if and when the commission, with the help of the municipalities and the state legislature, can create an additional revenue stream to fully fund the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges throughout the county, then Trussville can reduce its assistance in that area and redirect its resources to meet its other needs.
Melton said the recent change in leadership at the commission level gives him “great hope” that it’s moving in the right direction.
“That change and your letter to reach out to find a ‘sustainable solution’ presents me the opportunity to rethink the possibility of initiating legal action concerning the County’s previous assertion concerning maintenance and liability for Jefferson County Roads & Bridges within our city limits,” Melton wrote. “We would rather spend our energy working with the Commission than working against it and look forward to seeing what we can come up with together.”
Melton will likely discuss the roads and bridges situation soon with others mayors as part of the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency board.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.