Wet/dry vote still big topic for Oneonta in 2013

The wet/dry issue isn’t going away, at least for the City of Oneonta. On Nov. 7, Blount County voted down the alcohol referendum. However, the citizens of Oneonta voted in favor of going wet with 1393 “yes” votes and 1031 “no” votes. In Alabama, if a municipality in a dry county has more than 1000 citizens, a alcohol referendum can be held in that specific town, but when this bill was passed the Blount County representative at the time, Elwyn Thomas, proposed a separate amendment excluding Blount County from the bill. Now, the City of Oneonta is working to change that for their municipality.

“We were asked by the citizens to do this, and the council voted unanimously to look into it,” said Oneonta Mayor Ross Norris. “Every war we went to was for democracy. It is unconstitutional to take away the right to vote.”

No deadline is set for how long it will take to get the law changed to include Blount County.

“We are discussing options with District 9 State Sen. Clay Scofield who attended one of our meetings, we’ve had phone conversations with District 17 State Sen. Scott Beason, we’ve contacted the Governor’s office, and we’ve been in contact with District 34 Rep. David Standridge to make it where we let our citizens vote,” said city manager Ed Lowe.

Even though the looming topic of a possible alcohol referendum remains, Lowe says the city’s priority is financial management.

“We have quality of life and economic development issues, but they all hinge on financial management,” he said.

The new year came with less state and federal funding, and Lowe said the city took that into consideration when they were working on this year’s budget, and because Oneonta citizens are well-employed and the low-to-moderate income ratio in the city is small, it is hard to com- pete with larger cities for grant money.

“The state pretty much said there was no money in some categories,” Lowe said.

However, the continuing subject of improvement remains the center of attention for Oneonta during 2013, and Lowe says a compilation of industrial development, commercial development, and quality of life for Oneonta’s citizens are the main focus.

Some industrial property is available in the city, but with Oneonta’s proximity to the interstate the plans to do that are difficult to market, according to Lowe. Recently, Red Diamond chose to build in Moody rather than Oneonta because of the interstate issue.

Lowe says commercial development is linked with the wet/dry issue. However, he admits it won’t be a big, sudden boom of revenue, but it would help. Without the city going wet, there is still one possible improvement to commercial development this year – a bowling alley opening in downtown Oneonta. No date has been set for the opening of the facility, according to Lowe.

“We can’t compete (industrial or commercial development) on certain levels, but we can have a great qualify of life that we can move toward,” he said.

Some projects to improve the quality of life for Oneonta citizens include lighting and dugouts for the new softball field, possible pool maintenance, work on the airport, and an emerging project could be a potential outdoor facility. Lowe says the city is only in the preliminary stages of looking into the possibility for funding that project.

“There is a need for outdoor facilities in this area,” he said. “We have many natural attributes we could market, and outdoor activity generates a lot of revenue.”

Unfortunately, Lowe says no timeline is known for how long this project could take or whether the city could see construction on the facility beginning in two years or 20.

“The city of Oneonta has a vision,” Lowe said. “We have to diversify and play up our strong points.