Local government finds a way to generate funds

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

By Staff
Whether they knew it or not, when Escambia Countians joined the rest of Alabama in saying no to new taxes by defeating Gov. Bob Riley's proposed revenue-generating package last year, they weren't really saying no to new taxes.
They were saying no to that huge tax package, to taxes levied upon them by the Legislature, and to the general state of affairs in Montgomery. Whether that message has been heard loudly enough that it makes a long-term difference or not remains to be seen.
But what's evident is that with less and less money coming down from the state, local governmental entities are going to find the money they need to carry out their responsibilities, even when it means new taxes of their own. The schools here were forced to ask taxpayers to pay more in ad valorem taxes last year, to make up for cuts in the funds they normally receive from the state level. That measure was put up for a vote, and passed overwhelmingly.
The Standard supported that new tax -- voting to support the schools was one of the best decisions the county as a whole will likely ever make. Now comes another tax -- not a new one, but an increase to an existing form of taxation, the sales tax. The County Commission has signed off on an a three percent increase to the sales tax levied in unincorporated, outlying parts of the county, and a 1.5 percent increase in areas immediately surrounding municipalities, in which those municipalities have police jurisdiction.
The funds generated by this additional three percent will go toward road and bridge repair and the support of volunteer fire departments throughout the county. It needs approval by the State Legislature, but unlike the school tax, won't require a referendum.
In the middle of January, Pearl Stallworth, an Alco resident, came before the commission to ask that something be done to improve the state of roads in her community and some others. Commissioners spoke to the sad state of funding for such work, but Commission Chairman Larry White said he didn't think now was the right time to ask more of taxpayers in this area given that they'd just kicked in more ad valorem taxes to support the city and county school systems. White was speaking off the cuff, expressing a very reasonable sentiment. But apparently he spoke a bit too soon, because whether it goes down easily or not, now is the time.
We're guessing this won't be a popular move by the commission, no matter how much the funds are needed. And let there be no doubt, they're needed. We have some bad roads and bridges in this county. And our volunteer fire departments, which provide an invaluable service, have seen their funding pool shrink over the years. Whether a tax-weary populace warms to the idea or not, when they said no to Amendment One last September, the echo came back yes -- yes to local measures like this, of which there may well be more.

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