Commission moving forward on one-cent sales tax splitPublished 6:00pm Thursday, January 16, 2014
At a special called meeting on Monday evening, the Franklin County Commission approved a resolution that would allow them to move forward in the process of making changes to the bi-annual one-cent sales tax that currently benefits both the county and city schools one hundred percent.
After giving county residents over a month to voice any concerns over the possibility of splitting the one-cent sales tax, with 75 percent of the tax still going to benefit the schools and 25 percent going to the county to fund necessary road and bridge projects through the Alabama Transportation and Rehabilitation Improvement Program (ATRIP), the commission approved a resolution that called for Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and Sen. Roger Bedford to advertise the local bill that would formally make those changes, which is something that must happen before the bill can be discussed and voted on during the legislative session that began Tuesday.
“I met on Jan. 8 with both school systems’ superintendents, Gary Williams and Rex Mayfield, as well as with Roger [Bedford] and Johnny Mack [Morrow] to finalize the wording of the bill,” commission chairman Barry Moore said.
“Asking Sen. Bedford and Rep. Morrow to advertise the local bill is just the next step in the process. The ad will have to run for four consecutive weeks in the local paper, and we’re trying to get this done as soon as we can because of the short legislative session.”
The commission first discussed the possibility of splitting the tax, which has been voted in by Franklin County citizens since 2010, at their Dec. 9 work session.
Moore said when the commission first discussed these proposed changes, the first step in the process was to inform the public about exactly what the commission wanted to do.
“We wanted to make the citizens of Franklin County aware that we are in no way proposing a new tax,” Moore said. “This is an existing tax that Franklin County voters have approved since 2010 that currently benefits both school systems.
“We wanted voters to also understand that we didn’t want to completely take the tax away from the schools. If these changes are submitted in the form of legislation and approved by the voters, the school would still receive a majority of the proceeds from the one-cent tax.
“We knew these would both be concerns the public would have when we began discussing this issue, so we wanted to be up front and clear up any misconceptions before we went any further in the process.”
Moore said since they informed the public about the proposed changes, he has received positive feedback from residents who want to see the schools still benefit from the tax but who also want the county to have the matching funds to repave and repair some of the county’s roads and bridges.
“The 25 percent that would go to the county would help to fund the projects the county has been approved for through the ATRIP program,” Moore said.
“We have approximately $2.3 million in matching funds that we have to come up with in order to complete all of the projects we were approved for, and we simply do not have that kind of money.”
County commissioner Chris Wallace said the county has stretched its finances as far as possible over the past couple of years through bond refinances in order to come up with the matching funds for the first two rounds of ATRIP projects, such as the recent repaving work completed on Franklin 16, but Wallace said there were no more funds to move forward with future projects.
“The problem is that if we don’t find a source of funding for these future ATRIP projects, we will lose out on that money we were awarded,” Wallace said.
“Our roads, especially in the county, are in bad shape in a lot of places, and there is no way we could get all of the work done that we were approved for if it weren’t for this program, so we don’t need to miss out on this opportunity.”
Commissioner Rayburn Massey said splitting the tax and using the county’s portion as matching funds for the county’s approved ATRIP projects was a good investment of tax payers’ money.
“Part of the commission’s job is to serve the tax payers,” Massey said.
“If we can take this 25 percent of the one-cent sales tax, which comes out to about $500,000, and apply it to ATRIP and get these roads fixed, we’ll be turning $500,000 into $3 million worth of road work in the county. You just can’t beat that.”
Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams and Russellville Superintendent Rex Mayfield have voiced their support to the proposed changes.
“This one-cent tax is absolutely vital to our school system, and I have spoken with county superintendent Gary Williams and I know that it is vitally important to his school system as well,” Mayfield said.
“It has kept us from having to borrow money and put ourselves in a worse financial situation than we were already in following proration and being cut over $5 million.
“The people of this county have been gracious enough to vote in this tax for the past two cycles in 2010 and 2012, and we hope they will support the schools once again in 2014 when this tax is put back on the ballot for renewal.
“With that being said, I know it is important to work together for the good of the county as a whole, and many of the repairs that would be made through ATRIP would benefit the schools, mainly through our transportation system.
“There are places I know where a county bus goes several miles out of the way to avoid a bridge that it cannot pass over, and that’s wasted money for us when buses are driving several miles each school day that they shouldn’t have to drive. So I will support this change in the distribution of funds.”
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams agreed.
“I don’t think I can emphasize enough just how important this one-cent sales tax is to our school system,” Williams said.
“This has been instrumental in helping us pay down our debt, so we have seen just how vital it is.
“But the road and bridge situation, especially in the county, is something that is also a problem for us and something we deal with daily. We receive complaints on a weekly basis about the terrible roads the buses have to drive on and the bridges that have to be bypassed.
“I think it is very important for us to work together on this issue, especially since the county commission was willing to work with the schools four years ago to get this tax put on the ballot in the first place.”
Commissioner Wyman Pounders said he appreciated the school officials for working with the commission over the past month.
“I’m proud of the school systems for stepping up and working with us and understanding what we need,” Pounders said.
Moore said once the local bill has been advertised for four weeks, it will then be eligible to be introduced in the House and Senate by Morrow and Bedford. If approved, the local bill will be placed on the ballot in June to be voted on by the residents of Franklin County.