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Public opinions differ on sales tax

Nearly 40 people attended the first of several public hearings Thursday night organized by the Chilton County Commission on a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase.

The commission presented a plan outlining how the tax revenue would be used if approved by a majority of voters — one third to resurface paved roads, and two thirds to construct new road projects, including bridges.

“A sales tax is probably the fairest tax there is,” said Commissioner Red Turnipseed. “Everybody buys stuff to use.”

Turnipseed estimated the tax would generate annual revenue of about $3 million. County Engineer Tony Wearren said the road department operates on a budget of about $3.2 million.

Wearren said since 2002, the average increase of the cost of paving materials has been 99 percent.

“It’s almost doubled in eight years. In that time, the road department budget has either been level or reduced,” he said.

Wearren explained that chip seal roads, like many of those in the county, are intended to last seven to 10 years. Some in Chilton County are nearing 40 years old, he said.

In addition, there are 110 bridges in the county, 18 of which are 50-plus years old and an additional 19 of which are 40-plus years old.

Currently, five bridges are closed and 16 are rated at a maximum weight of three tons, which is the minimum rating a bridge can have before it must be closed.

“We have a major concern coming up in the next eight or 10 years on what we are going to do with our bridges,” Wearren said.

Most commissioners expressed full support of the increase; Greg Moore and Bobby Agee indicated their ultimate decisions would be based on what the people decided.

Joe Headley said he was not 100 percent in favor of raising taxes. Upon hearing this, resident Pat Glenn asked if he lived on a dirt road.

“You need to live on a dirt road for about 20 years, and then you’ll be in favor of it,” said Glenn.

Commissioner Heedy Hayes pointed out that the commission currently does not receive any sales tax revenue. The percentage allotted to the county goes 100 percent to schools.

Rep. Jimmy Martin confirmed this.

“We don’t get one cent sales tax — not one penny,” Hayes said.

Jemison Mayor Eddie Reed spoke favorably of the proposal but said municipalities should be able to benefit from the tax since the majority of Chilton’s businesses are located within cities and towns.

“We face the same (road) issues that Chilton County faces,” Reed said.

Hayes said the county has helped towns with paving projects, such as County Road 50 that runs into Thorsby and County Road 42 that runs into Jemison. He said the commission could have stopped short in these instances.

Thorsby Mayor Dearl Hilyer echoed Reed’s concerns, as did others.

“I would be for the tax, but I’ve got to stick with our mayors,” said resident Margaret Cobb.

Resident Carl Headley asked if the county could explore alternatives, such as taxing alcoholic beverages.

“It seems a little bit unfair to me that we would consider taxing the necessities of life,” he said, adding he would like to see a percentage of the money go to a capital reserve fund.