Commissioner, chairman speak about upcoming sales tax vote at council meeting

By LEA RIZZO, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 8/3/17

SUMITON — County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt spoke at Tuesday’s Sumiton City Council meeting about a proposed 1-cent sales tax, which comes up for public vote on Aug. 15.

“When I ran [for …

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Commissioner, chairman speak about upcoming sales tax vote at council meeting

Posted

SUMITON — County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt spoke at Tuesday’s Sumiton City Council meeting about a proposed 1-cent sales tax, which comes up for public vote on Aug. 15.

“When I ran [for office], I told people we had to have revenue because this county was going to go bankrupt. And it is,” Bishop told the council members.

“We’ve got $1.5 million of new debt money that has to be paid on a $10 million budget each year,” Aderholt said.

“This [act] helps everybody in this county,” Bishop continued. “It doesn’t just go to the General Fund and be spent any way the commissioners want to do it. It doesn’t work that way.”

He also encouraged people to read Act 2017-256, also called HB474, ahead of the vote. The text of the act can be found at https://openstates.org/al/bills/2017rs/HB474/, under “Bill Text” heading, or under the state Legislature’s website under the 2017 session, as one of state Rep. Connie Rowe’s bills.

In speaking about why this tax is necessary, Bishop cited the lack of funding for local fire departments and the poor state of county and city roads, as well as the lack of security protection at the Walker County Courthouse for himself and the commissioners, other employees and citizens when in the building.

According to a handout from the commission, the yearly distribution of revenue from the 1-cent sales tax is estimated to be as follows: $4.23 million to roads/bridges infrastructure; $1.5 million in debt payment; $500,000 towards public safety; $200,000 for fire/rescue squads; $100,000 for economic development; and $470,000 for municipalities.

Aderholt said around $4.4 million would be left over after the revenue is divided up in these ways; 10 percent of this amount would then be divided up amongst the cities by population. The balance after all that goes to the General Fund to be used for county roads, bridges and infrastructure in the county.

Bishop warned that these numbers are estimated and they can go up or down.

In addition to helping the county avoid bankruptcy, Aderholt also reminded people that the act would do away with the $10 car tag fee people currently have to pay. The funds from this fee, which has been in place for around 20 years, were used to pay off the Walker County Jail. According to Aderholt, the jail was fully paid off in December 2016.

“That tag fee is currently 7 percent of our county budget,” Aderholt said. Contrary to rumors that have circulated, “the $10 tag fee was never set to go away after the jail was paid off. ... That fee was set to be in place forever.”

He also explained that the funds from what people call the “county sales tax” actually go to the schools. “We don’t receive any benefit from that,” Aderholt said.

During the meeting, Sumiton resident Frankie Weathers questioned why taxes keep increasing but “we don’t see any improvements and we keep going further in debt.”

Bishop again reiterated his assertions from other city council meetings around the county that members of previous commissions “got some bad advice and made some bad decisions.”

He also told Weathers that “we got to drive on these roads, if y’all want to drive over them. Or we can take motor graders and make gravel dirt roads out of them.”

Weathers said he wasn’t talking about “threats” but instead wanted the money the county has now to be spent better.

Bishop responded by saying, “I call it the truth [rather than threats]. I wish I hadn’t run for office. But I’m there. I didn’t need no office; I still don’t.”

When Weathers told Bishop that he chose to seek office, Bishop said, “That’s right, I thought I was trying to help. And I’m still trying to help.”

“I think this is where you have your real problems with the perceptions of the people,” councilman Floyd Burton said. “I think what the people really want to see is some results. And I think being transparent in the results is going to help you. It might not help you this time but [can] from now on out.”

Aderholt summed the situation up by saying there is no perfect solution.

“I’m not in favor of raising taxes on anybody,” he said. “But this issue is probably the most important issue we’re going to deal with in our lifetime, from a county government perspective.

“It may not be a perfect plan but it’s the plan that we got and we’re moving forward with trying to save the county from bankruptcy and debt,” he concluded.

Bishop said that all he and the commissioners can ask is that people support the act during the Aug. 15 vote and contact them with any questions regarding the act.

“It’s the citizens’ decision,” Aderholt said.