The Alabama Association of Regional Councils is composed of twelve regions. A Regional Council is a public organization encompassing a multi-jurisdictional regional community. It is founded on, sustained by, and directly tied to local governments through local and/or state government laws, agreements, or other actions. Through communication, planning, policymaking, coordination, advocacy, and technical assistance, the regional council serves the local governments and citizens in the region. These councils frequently deal with issues and needs which cross city, town, county, and in some instances, state boundaries. Regional councils serve a region or substate district which consists of a group of neighboring counties and local communities whose residents are joined as a unit economically, socially, and geographically.
Regional councils have different names such as regional planning and development commissions, councils of government, and economic or local development districts. Regardless of the name, regional councils carry out many of the same functions and responsibilities.
Regional councils are multi-jurisdictional and multi-purpose organizations with legal status. They are funded in whole or in part by member local governments. The governing bodies of councils are primarily composed of local government elected officials and appointed representatives of local communities and state government.
Each region can also provide special services as determined by the board of directors. The emphasis and program mix depends upon local needs and priorities within the region.
Regionalism is working together and sharing resources to meet needs and take advantage of opportunities. Through regional councils, cities and counties can:
- Work with one organization to secure and administer grants and loans from various sources
- Support a shared staff of professional talent to supplement local capabilities
- Participate in cooperative programs that are efficient and effective because of “economies of scale”
- Share information and solutions about common problems or issues which are not confined by political boundaries
- Stimulate overall economic, social, and physical environments
- Promote coordination of public and private interests and investments
- Avoid duplication of services and facilities
- It is not easy to make regionalism work. However, the advantages are clear — communities can solve problems and provide higher quality services at a reduced cost.
Regional councils are a “service arm” of local governments. Their activities are directed in response to local needs. These needs may currently exist or be based on projected growth, changing lifestyles, and technological innovations.
Alabama’s twelve regional councils were created in the period between 1963 through 1971. Much of the impetus for the creation of regional planning organizations in Alabama came from the passage of the the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 and the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 which provided respectively for the establishment of Economic Development Districts (EDDs) and Local Development Districts (LDDs). Administrative funding was provided through the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for operation of districts tasked with responsibilities for strategic policy development to address economic development and quality of life issues on a multi-jurisdictional basis. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also funded local planning assistance and regional planning initiatives and issued guidelines in 1969 which established a system of certification for area-wide planning organizations. During this period, municipal and county governments in Alabama voluntarily coalesced through regional compacts into the twelve regional councils present in Alabama today.
The formation of the regional councils in Alabama has its basis in state law. The earliest authorization for formation of a regional planning commission was enacted by the Alabama State Legislature in 1935. In 1963, the legislature passed additional legislation authorizing multi-jurisdiction planning in response to requirements contained in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962. That legislation provided the basis for formation of regional councils in the period from 1963 to 1969. In 1969, Act 1126 revamped the state’s enabling legislation authorizing the governing bodies of local governments to establish regional planning and development commissions and to petition the governor for certification. That act, with subsequent amendments, has provided the statutory authority for the operation of the regional councils in Alabama since that time. By 1971, the regional councils of Alabama had emerged in the form which is seen today. In 1971 Governor George C. Wallace, through executive order, established the current boundaries and certified the existing regional councils.
The roles of the regional councils in Alabama have evolved over time to respond to the needs and goals of their respective member governments. In the early years, the missions of regional councils focused on tasks such as local planning assistance and grant writing, response to the Economic Development District and Local Development District responsibilities, and regional planning studies funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
During the 1970s, Regional Councils in Alabama assumed other responsibilities, including management of human services programs. Many of the regional councils took on the responsibility of establishing Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and implemented locally-based programs for the elderly with funding from the Alabama Commission on Aging under the Older Americans Act (OAA). Many of the regional councils also implemented Older Worker Training Programs under Title V of the Older Americans Act. Additionally, a number of regional councils assumed responsibilities as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation planning in designated metropolitan areas.
By the 1980s, a number of regional councils had assumed transit service delivery responsibilities with funding from the Federal Transit Administration under the supervision of the Alabama Highway Department (subsequently the Alabama Department of Transportation).
In the 1990s, a number of the regional councils had been funded to operate regional revolving loan funds. The Regional Councils are also developing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to support the mapping and data needs of their local governments.
The programs of the individual regional councils have evolved to respond to the unique requirements of their respective regions and local government. This has resulted in regional councils having many common services and programs, but the individual regional councils also reflect unique mixes of activities and services. These unique programs span the spectrum from Head Start to a court referral program, microfilm services, water quality planning, and a variety of other specialized services. The regional councils will continue to evolve to meet the needs of their local governments and assist those local governments in responding to emerging new State and Federal program requirements.