What makes a town a city?

Published 10:45 pm Friday, May 8, 2009

Only two municipalities in Chilton County can be called cities, but you may not know the reason why.

Only Clanton and Jemison meet the criteria for the term “city,” which is to have a population greater than 2,000. This is not counting the City of Calera, which partially lies in northern Chilton County.

Any incorporated community with a lesser population count is defined by the Alabama League of Municipalities as a “town.” This includes Thorsby, Maplesville and nearby Billingsley.

Thorsby’s status could soon change, however, based on U.S. Census counts and recent population estimates. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the population of Thorsby was 1,820 — and the town has grown significantly in the past nine years, Mayor Dearl Hilyer said.

“I’m pretty confident we’re over that 2,000 mark,” he said. “We’ve added several subdivisions.”

The city has also gained land area through annexation, specifically on Medical Center Drive. Also, the K-12 school in Thorsby has had to freeze its enrollment due to overcrowding.

As the 2010 Census approaches, Thorsby has already made some preparations toward becoming a city. The sign by town hall reads “City Hall” rather than town hall. While the sign was installed under former mayor Tom Bentley’s administration, Hilyer said he agreed with the decision.

“That sign was about $3,000 or $4,000,” he said.

As for Maplesville and Billingsley, both still have a ways to go, as their latest population counts were 672 and 116, respectively.

Tracy Roberts, assistant general counsel for the Alabama League of Municipalities, said the minimum population requirement for an incorporated town is 300 people, but a town does not have to maintain this number to keep its charter.

“The number used to be smaller,” Roberts said. “It was last increased, I think, in the 1980s, from 150 to 300.”

The City of Clanton’s population according to the 2000 Census was 7,800, and Jemison’s was 2,248, although Jemison Mayor Eddie Reed estimates Jemison’s population has grown to about 4,000 since.

“I like living in a small town environment,” Reed said. “I would love to see Jemison remain a small town environment, but the growth is going to come.”