Mayor's 1-cent tax raise proposal met with opposition - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Mayor's 1-cent tax raise proposal met with opposition

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The mayor officially presented his proposal at a news conference Thursday. The mayor officially presented his proposal at a news conference Thursday.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle officially proposed a one-cent sales tax increase Thursday, first during a news conference, and then to city council members at their meeting later in the evening.

The funds raised by the tax increase would go towards the $125 million the city needs in an agreement with the state to begin work on several area road projects. If the city provides the $125 million, the state will match those funds, and work on the projects can begin.

The $125 million would be paid in equal $25 million installments across five years.

The seven projects involved in the plan are "essential," according to the mayor. He said a tax increase was not his first choice. But after having already cut things like leaf collection, 10% department cuts and employee buyouts, there was no other option.

"We looked at it. Was there $25 million [per year] that could be taken out of the city budget? There wasn't. Was there an extra $25 million in the City of Huntsville? There wasn't. So then, we looked at broad plans and said, ‘Are these roads a necessity or are they just a want?' And in our mind, they are a necessity," Battle said.

Huntsville Councilman Bill Kling is not on-board with the idea. "I think Mayor Battle has taken a very good initiative. He is trying to clean up the mess made by the state Department of Transportation. We need more road projects in Huntsville," Kling said.

"I guess my concern is why do the City of Huntsville taxpayers have to put so much money into these projects when these are a responsibility of the state?" he continued.

Kling said now is a bad time for a tax increase because of rising health care costs and the unstable economy. He is also concerned about the impact it could have on the elderly and those with low-incomes. Kling said he had a lot of questions that need answers before he can support the plan.

City residents also voiced their reservations about the mayor's proposal. Several said they wanted to know if there were any other options.

Kling said a public vote is not an option in the matter. City law puts the decision in the hands of elected officials. Discretionary funds are also off the table; Councilman Kling said there are none to use.

The councilman instead offered a different idea: look toward the budget.

"One idea would be to look at the capital plans of the City of Huntsville, the City of Madison, and Madison County. Is there a way we can combine and come up with the $25 million per year for five years that we need to match the state? The city has numerous state road projects that we are providing funding for already," Kling said.

Kling said they are laying everything out on the table and listening to people for suggestions.

The community will be able to speak and share opinions on the tax increase proposal at the Dec. 12 council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. A vote on the issue will be taken in two weeks.

If the council approves the proposal, the tax increase would go into effect March 1, 2014.

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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