THE SHOALS, Ala. — The federal government is proposing the downgrade of 144 cities from metropolitan statistical areas to micropolitan.
The Bureau of the Budget first issued those designations in 1949 to areas with populations of 50,000 or more in the core city. The bureau, now known as the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, wants to increase that population threshold to 100,000.
Sheffield Mayor Steve Stanley said this change could cause several negative consequences the OMB probably hasn’t considered, like a decrease in federal funding.
“If we become a micropolitan statistical area, this whole area will probably not be considered in the same light that it has been in the past,” Stanley said. “We’ll be considered more rural and then that has a consequence for the existing rural communities because the funding that’s allocated for rural communities—now it’s going to have much more competition.”
Stanley added that the change could cause the Shoals’ core city, Florence, to lose access to community development block grants.
“Florence is currently the entitlement city for CDBG funds for this metropolitan statistical area,” Stanley said. “The population is only about 40,000 so if we become a micropolitan statistical area, Florence is likely to lose their CDBG entitlement funds.”
Shoals Chamber of Commerce President Caitlin Holland said the downgrade would be a misrepresentation of economic growth in The Shoals.
“Unfortunately, rural is not a positive term, necessarily,” Holland said. “It does make you think of large expanses, not very many people, certainly not very heavily populated or densely populated. We don’t look around at our community and think ‘rural,’ we really do think that we have much to offer and a lot to recruit here and so that designation just does not necessarily seem to fit.”
Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood called the move a hindrance, saying today is the day to continue to invest in areas like The Shoals.
“We just need to keep things like they are,” Underwood said. “Let us continue to grow like we need to. I think north Alabama matters to the entire state more than it has before and I think the state matters to the country more than it has before. Momentum is a precious thing; I don’t want to lose it.”
Mayor Underwood said all cities and towns involved, as well as the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority, have sent resolutions to the area’s legislative delegation in Washington D.C. to oppose the proposal.