Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tuskegee City Council to Vote on Sales Tax Increase Extension
By Brittany Bivins

Could you soon be spending less on sales tax in Tuskegee? That depends on a city council vote next week. Last year, the council voted to increase sales tax by 2 cents to 10 cents on a dollar. Now council members must decide whether to keep that increase in place for three more years.

City officials say they've done a lot of good with the extra money in the last year. And they say going back to an 8-cent sales tax could have drastic consequences.

What's the difference between an 8-cent sales tax and 10 cents? According to tuskegee city manager Harvey Smith, almost a million dollars in revenue for the city over the past year. He says that money has gone to restore salaries for city employees after a 2010 pay cut and for upgrades to police, fire and emergency personnel. Still, he says, they're not done yet.

"The police department is in bad shape. We need to renovate the building over there, they've got a bad roof. They need about five more police cars at the rate of about $44,000 per vehicle," Smith said.

But not everyone wants the temporary tax increase extended, including Allen O'Rourke, owner of Tiger Pause Café in downtown Tuskegee.

"The tax went up, basically, during a real recession, so, yes, it did hurt our business quite a bit. With the recession and increased sales tax, even though it was for a good cause, it still hurt the vendors of Tuskegee," he said.

Vivian Sims has lived in Tuskegee for 61 years. She says she doesn't want the tax extended, because it puts more pressure on lower-income residents.

"They don't have money to pay their lights and gas bills here, and the money they make from the sales tax increase, they're not using it to bring down the living expense in Tuskegee," she said.

But city officials say not extending the tax increase will take a toll on city services.

"We are coming out of a deficit situation right  now. If we lose that million or so dollars, that's going to put us back in a hole again," Smith said.

Mayor Johnny Ford says he thinks the tax increase should be extended, and he says he thinks a majority of residents are behind it.  "We've been able to do some meaningful things with those 2 cents, plus it's comparable to Montgomery and the surrounding areas," Ford said.

The city council will vote Tuesday to extend the sales tax increase for three years. If it is not renewed, sales tax will go back to 8 cents a dollar on March 1st.