Residents question Calera Council’s proposed sales tax increasePublished 9:01pm Monday, March 18, 2013
By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer
CALERA – Calera residents questioned the Calera City Council during a public hearing regarding a proposed one-cent sales tax increase.
The public hearing took place during a March 18 City Council meeting, and is one of three hearings about the sales tax increase. The council will hold two more public hearings at 6:30 p.m. March 25 and April 1 before voting on the increase.
Resident Frank Hoskins asked the council the purpose of the tax increase.
Mayor Jon Graham said the city plans to hire 10 firefighters, two park employees and four policemen, as well as complete pending capital expenditure projects.
Additionally, Graham said the Alabama Department of Transportation could prioritize the Interstate 65 exit 231 bridge-widening project if the city could provide a substantial match.
“We’ve been told recently the city will have to come up with matching funds, and this will speed up the process,” Graham said of the state highway department.
Graham said the bridge-widening project would cost about $12 million. The complete project, which would cost about $30 million, would include the bridge widening and widening U.S. 31 to downtown Calera and north past Alabama 70.
“It’s a bottleneck. It’s a clogged artery that I want to see addressed,” Graham said of the exit 231 bridge. “That’s a major project that will allow us to grow.”
City Engineer Chris Pappas said ALDOT typically requires a 15-percent match for major projects, but due to the economic state, cities are providing higher matches to gain priority.
“We have to bid ourselves into priority,” Graham said. “We have to sit at the table and say we’re committing this kind of money.”
Resident Mollie Brown asked Finance Director Roy Hadaway how long the tax increase would be in place before enough money would be accumulated to fund the additional employment and projects.
“We’re not trying to raise $5-6 million, but we’ll issue a bond and make payments,” Hadaway said. “We’ve come a long way to become a fiscally responsible city. This will take us to the next level.”
Hadaway said the sales tax increase would generate $155,000 additional revenue per month. About $60,000 would pay bond payments, while about $120,000 would fund additional employees and projects.
When asked if the increased tax would keep businesses from moving to Calera, Graham said the exit 231 bridge is the biggest economic deterrent, not sales tax.
“During the time we’ve been a cent less than Alabaster and Montevallo, we haven’t see floodgates open because businesses could sell their (product) for less,” Graham said.
“We want ot hear from the people. We have a plan, and we think we’re heading in the right direction, but we want to hear from you,” he added.
During the council meeting, the City Council also:
-Approved the purchase of extrication equipment of $15,500 for Calera Fire station No. 2.
-Rejected a request by Norfolk Southern Railroad Company to close a railroad crossing on Hawthorn Drive near Alabama 25.
-Approved a resolution to join with the League of Municipalities to oppose a state House and Senate bill that does not require rental property owners to purchase business licenses.