The Tallapoosa County Commission unanimously passed a resolution to leave in place a 1-cent sales tax to supply Alexander City and Tallapoosa County schools funding for $85.8 million in capital projects.
It is something commission chair T.C. Coley said will have a long-lasting effect on Tallapoosa County.
“I have been around the county commission for about 20 years now,” Coley said. “There are very few votes that have such significance as a tax. This area has gone through a lot in the last 20 years. We have seen our county change substantially. The population hasn’t dropped a lot but we have seen a lot of changes. There is no white knight on a white horse coming to save us. We are going to have to save ourselves. In doing so, we are going to have to make some sacrifices.”
Coley said he has some concerns with current plans for school facilities.
“We have some immediate needs,” Coley said. “We have some challenges. My concern is the future of Stephens (Elementary School). The future undecided. It does concern me. That school is a stabilizing factor in that community.”
Other commissioners express their support of the sales tax as well.
“We just want to make sure this 1-cent sales tax benefits every child,” commissioner Emma Jean Thweatt said. “We want to make sure every school gets what it needs and it serves the children.”
Commissioner John McKelvey polled the more than 100 in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
“I have one question for the audience — I know a lot of people who are in support of it and those who are opposed to it,” McKelvey said.
He then got those who supported the tax to raise their hands and all but two raised hands in support.
The tax was enacted by the commission in May 2015 to allow the Tallapoosa County Schools to build a one month’s operating expense reserve, something required by law.
Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Langford said he would evaluate when to start its next project.
“We have to begin the planning now that we have a sustainable source of revenue,” Lankford said. “In the next couple of years we are looking at putting up a new high school that meets the needs of students. The current high school was built in 1950. It needs a lot of repairs. Trying to put 21st century learning in a 70-year old building is hard.”
Lankford said the public would see things start at Jim Pearson Elementary School first.
“Jim Pearson is the top and we have already started the design,” Lankford said. “We will pay for it out of our general fund.”
Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle said he is thankful for the support commissioners have given schools in Tallapoosa County.
“We have an opportunity to do some good things for all our campuses and schools across Tallapoosa County, not just in the Tallapoosa County school system but in also the city school system,” Windle said. “It’s unprecedented. I don’t think there’s ever been the kind of commitment not only to education but to economic development that can take place over the next three or four years in this county with $80 million worth of construction going on at a time, what that can bring to business in Tallapoosa County. I do want to thank (Coley) and the commission for the decision. It’s a real commitment and we thank you for it.”
Since 2015 the two boards of education have looked at avenues for funding capital projects. The commission asked the Tallapoosa County Board of Education to try and pass a property tax while it considered extending the sales tax but the 3-mil ad-valorem tax was overwhelmingly defeated.
A property tax is something Tallapoosa County business owner Woody Baird wants the commission to look into.
“I think there are better ways to raise revenue,” Baird said. “ The last time we had an increase in property tax was 1980, 40 years ago. It is not going to be popular. I will visit every corner of this county to help get it passed.”
Baird said his customer base extends 200 miles from Alexander City and he loses business when would-be buyers find out about the 10% sales tax.
Baird proposed a 5-mil ad-valorem tax solely for education knowing 5 mils would not be equivalent to the sales tax collection.
“It’s $50 on $100,000 of property per year exclusively for schools,” Baird said. “It’s 25% of what the sales tax is raising now but the growth over the next few years will catch it up. Just look at the lake real estate. They pay almost nothing and only pay sales tax about three months a year. They basically contribute nothing here.”
Baird also asked the commission to remove Alexander City from the 1-cent sales tax and tax the rest of the county.
The sales tax resolution passed by the commission Monday will put the tax in place for 30 years with an auto renewal at that point; the commission can rescind the tax if it chooses to at that time.
It also requires the monies to go only to capital projects or debt service for capital projects, to projects approved by the boards of education and submitted to the commission. Any deviation of the project lists must be approved by the commission.
Another requirement is for transparency. The commission asked for reports on how the funds were being used or the commission could choose to rescind the 1-cent sales tax.
The commission entered an executive session for 30 minutes to discuss economic development. No action was taken when the commission returned to its regular meeting.
In other action the Tallapoosa County Commission also:
• Approved the employment contract of county engineer David Moore from April 2020 through March 2023. It includes a raise costing the county approximately $200 a month and other funds coming from a provision in the Rebuild Alabama gas tax to help fund a county engineer and assistant engineer in each county.
“They were woefully undercompensated even against the smaller counties,” Coley said. “This will hopefully bring compensation more in line with other counties.”
• Approved using projected funds from the Rebuild Alabama Act (the new gas tax) for pavement preservation. The nearly $800,000 in funds will be used to strip patch and level almost 24 miles of county roads including Pearson Chapel Road, Goodwater Road, Washington Street and Germany’s Ferry Road.
• Approved a digital information cooperative agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for aerial photographs to be used by the Revenue Commissioner’s office.
• Heard from Elaine Toney about Ferst Readers. Toney asked the commission to help support the program which puts books in the hands of every child in Tallapoosa County from birth to 5 years old.
• Reminded everyone the policy of the commission has the chair and vice chair positions rotating every nine months among the commissioners. Steve Robinson will be the chair starting Sept. 1 and McKelvey will be vice chair.
• Approved warrants and purchase orders.
• Approved the reappointment of Raphelia Forbus, Lisbeth Pierce and Emerson Ware to the board of the Tallapoosa County Department of Human Resources.
• Approved the reappointment of Coley to the Alabama County Commission Association legislative committee.
• Approved a restaurant retail liquor license for The Burritos Corner at Walnut Hill.
• Approved a leave for a county employee under the Family Medical Leave Act.
The next meeting of the Tallapoosa County Commission is at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 9.