AUBURN, Ala. (WTVM) - The federal government is looking to downgrade 144 cities nationwide from their metropolitan status, including the Opelika-Auburn area.
Opelika and Auburn, along with six other cities in Alabama, would now be called micropolitan areas. They would no longer be considered a metropolitan area unless one of the cities hits a 100,000 population mark.
As of 2019, Opelika counts 31,000 citizens and Auburn has about 60,000. Normally, these numbers make the Opelika-Auburn urban area metropolitan. But, that could soon change.
“The Office of Management and Budget has proposed to change the minimum metropolitan statistical reporting area from 50,000 to 100,000,” said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.
Being a metropolitan area has its benefits, including federal funding from Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Federal Highway Administration.
“Homeless prevention, senior sport services, youth sport services, the food bank and the food pantry, we’ve used it to build affordable housing. We’ve used it to make our roadways better,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders.
Both mayors said all of these programs that make their cities thrive could soon be in jeopardy.
“We’re a small community. It’s too great, and we use that money to help folks and to do things in our community primarily for low and moderate income,” said Fuller.
One specific program that would suffer is Opelika Main Street, which recruits and moves many businesses into historical buildings that need constant attention.
“It allows us to rehab and make sure that these buildings downtown that bring about character of our downtown are able to be restored and to be enjoyed by the next generation of Opelika residents,” said Ken Ward, Opelika Main Street director.
“It would be a big hole in the service capabilities of our city for those in our community who really need it,” said Anders.
According to the City of Auburn’s director of public affairs, David Dorton, this proposal is still in a public comment phase, but if nothing changes, Auburn-Opelika will be designated as a micropolitan area in 2023.
Both mayors said Alabama senators, Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, have communicated with the Office of Budget and Management to help keep Auburn-Opelika a metro area.