Lawrence County facing budget cuts while housing market is strong

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MOULTON, Ala. (WHNT) - Lawrence County’s budget woes led the county commission to announce this week it was cutting the county personnel budget by around $1 million or 45 percent.

The decision will mean cuts of between 30 and 50 jobs, county officials said.

The county’s budget woes trace back to the closing of the International Paper plant in March 2014.

The closing cost the community about 1,100 jobs. The county lost sales tax revenue, taxes on plant equipment and substantial losses from TVA’s in-lieu-of-tax payments -- for power it sold to the plant.

Voters last year rejected a sales tax hike to boost a declining school budget.

During the March primary election Lawrence County voters rejected a tax “equalization” measure that would have made a 9-cent sales tax uniform across the county. The tax hike would have mostly affected unincorporated Lawrence County, the rate is already in place in Moulton and other areas.

But that measure, which county officials said would have generated about $900,000 annually, was defeated with more than 63 percent of voters casting “no” ballots.

The tax defeat led to the cuts, county officials said. But some residents in Moulton expressed little concern this week about proposed job cuts.

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Residents suggested if the county spends the money as it should, there is enough to continue to operate effectively.

While Lawrence County is experiencing job cuts and budget woes, its housing market continues to show signs of strength, according to Shannon DeFazio, a realtor with MarMac Real Estate in Decatur.

Houses sold in the first quarter of 2016 had an average sale price of $130,000 compared to $95,000 a year earlier.

DeFazio said the housing inventory has lowered, creating a seller’s market in Lawrence County and throughout the eight-county north Alabama region.

She said Lawrence County is attractive to buyers.

“Buyers are always going to want a home with good land, a good lot. And to get it off the beaten path,” DeFazio said.

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