Ray Edwards’ life-saving initiative for seniors

Published 8:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The 2023 session of the Alabama Legislature concluded in the wee hours of Friday morning with the approval of the state’s largest ever Education and General Fund budgets. The $8.8 billion education budget is more than $500 million more than last year’s education budget. An education supplemental bill will provide another $2.8 billion. The General Fund budget will allocate approximately $3 billion for non-education state programs such as Medicaid, prisons, courts, law enforcement, mental health and other programs. This budget is some six percent higher than last year’s General Fund budget. Both budgets have been signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey.

Alabama Department of Senior Services Board Chairman Ray Edwards of Valley traveled to Montgomery this week to meet with State Reps. Debbie Wood and Bob Fincher to discuss a state-funded program he’s been working with in Chambers, Randolph and Clay counties. He hopes it will go statewide in the coming years.

This initiative provides weather radios to seniors living at home. The radios are battery operated and broadcasts the latest alerts from the National Weather Service on approaching storms. A senior living at home can easily turn it on when bad weather is on the way and will quickly realize if they are in a danger zone.

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This state-funded program provides these radios to seniors at no cost to them.

“This is a really good program, and I am glad to be participating in it,” Edwards said.

This is Edwards’ second year in doing this. Last year he was able to acquire 150 radios for Valley seniors.

There is a learning curve involved in doing this. “When our radios arrived last year we found out that they didn’t come with batteries,” he said. “We had to purchase 900 AA batteries at a cost of $190. I had to get some volunteers to help me put the batteries in the radios.  It was all worthwhile when we gave out the radios. The seniors were really happy to get them.”

More than 100 weather radios have been approved for seniors in Lanett and LaFayette and 164 will be going to seniors in Roanoke, Wedowee and Lineville.

Another 25 radios will be going to seniors who are active in the Beulah Senior Center.

State Reps. Wood and Fincher and State Senator Randy Price are supportive of the program. There’s funding for this year’s distribution in the state budget.

Edwards was accompanied by great grandson Gavin Walden on the trip to Montgomery. He will be a ninth grade student this year at Springwood School. Visiting the Alabama State House for he first time was an eyeopening experience for him. While the House of Representative was H in session, Wood took him into the House chamber and showed him how votes are taken electrocnially. He even got to take a practice vote on his own.

Wood talked about some local issues that have been dealt with this year. She said she was pleased to have Chambers County Revenue Commissioner Beth Abney’s salary raised to be on the same level as the revenue commissioners in similar-sized counties. Abney’s office has an extraordinary recored in being close to the exact penny when it comes to audits.

Wood said she has some concerns over a new law regarding police jurisdictions. This legislation will eliminate them for 128 Alabama cities including Lanett and LaFayette.

“I’ve been told that the loss of revenue this will create for these cities may cause their bond rating to be lowered,” Wood said.

This will raise the cost of borrowing for those cities.

Lanett could lose up to $700,000 in revenue if its police jurisdiction is taken away.

There’s also the problem of maintaining vital services. The Chambers County Commission does not have an EMS service. Most of rural Chambers County has this provided by the cities of Lanett and LaFayette. The county would likely contract with the cities to continue this.

The sheriff’s office already has its hands full in maintaining a law enforcement presence in its existing jurisdiction. Chambers County covers some 599 square miles, much of it sparsely inhabited rural areas. These areas are regularly patrolled. Having to provide adequate law enforcement protection for Huguley, Lakeview and areas around the Alabama side of West Point Lake will add significant burdens to that.

In his nine years in the legislature, Bob Fincher has represented much of Chambers County. He has three years to go on what will be his final term. He has announced that he will not seek another term.

“I have really enjoyed my time here in the legislature,” he said.

Fincher is a retired school teacher. One of his former students at Randolph County High, Jeff Lovvorn, represents the Auburn area in the state legislature. “There’s some irony here,” he said. “I graduated from Auburn High and represent the Randolph County area. Jeff graduated from Randolph County High and represents Auburn.”

Dr. Barbara Boyd, who represents the Anniston area, was a fellow classroom teacher at Weaver High when Fincher began his teaching career.

Fincher said he has always made it his top priority to listen to people back home but that it’s not that way with many other legislators. “They have learned the system,” he said. “They listen to lobbyists. None of us are irreplaceable. People coming behind us do things differently, but they have good ideas.”

Edwards said he thoroughly enjoyed giving his great grandson an idea of what goes on at the state capitol. Edwards served for 28 years on the Valley City Council. He’s now in its 18th year as a board member for the Alabama Department of Senior Services. He was first appointed by Gov. Bob Riley and reappointed by governors Bentley and Ivey. He has worked with three ADSS directors, Irene Collins, Neal Morrison and the current one, Jean Brown.

The main program conducted by the Department is the daily meal program. The ADSS sees that senior centers throughout the state receive fresh meals five days a week. Meals are also delivered to those who are home bound.