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A group out of the Shoals conduced an $80,000 study to see where the area could improve.
This study found the biggest problem in the Shoals is that it is fragmented and there are too many government agencies spread out over Lauderdale and Colbert counties. This study even suggested merging some agencies from utilities to tourism.
A Greater Shoals Committee, which was formed in 2018 and is headed up by Macke Mauldin, said donors paid for the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study. It focused on six areas where the Shoals could improve as a whole.
Those areas are; digital infrastructure, tourism, workforce development, economic development, quality of life, and governmental collaboration.
"Merging is a scary thing but I think we can be a better community if we collaborate and merge," said Mauldin. "We've got to do the smart things. We don't need to do things just because everyone thinks it needs to be done, but where it's smart and can save money for the tax payers or even do a better job for the taxpayers is what we need to do."
Public officials from the cities of Sheffield, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Florence, and Colbert and Lauderdale counties were all at the meeting in Florence where the PARCA study's findings were revealed. Two big points were merging tourism and having the cities of Sheffield and Tuscumbia merge their sewer services, which would save millions according to the study.
"I think this is something people will say let's explore that and see what we can do to become more of a regional large metropolitan area instead of all the small entities within it. I think that's a conversation people want us to have," said Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood.
During the meeting people voted on their top three issues in the Shoals. Keeping young people in the area was No.1, followed by cooperation, and having a metro government for all government entities in the Shoals. The study isn't saying all cities should become one but rather explore options to merge certain agencies.
"Nobody wants to lose that I live in Sheffield, I'm from Tuscumbia or Muscle Shoals, or I'm from Florence. Nobody wants to lose that," said Jill Andrews, who lives in Tuscumbia. "I think there are ways the cities could merge and consolidate services and those communities still wouldn't lose their identities."
Not only did the study reveal areas the Shoals could improve on but then different committees were formed to suggest changes to comply with the studies findings. Mauldin said merging certain agencies won't happen over night.
"Not everybody can merge on the first day but we need to start where it makes sense for our community," said Mauldin.
The study found a lot of good things about the Shoals. For instance their skilled to trade workforce is higher than surrounding metro areas. Those skilled workers are coming out of high school ready to work.
To read the full study, you can click here.
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