Sales tax referendum legislation delivered to county for further action

A draft of a legislative bill to authorize a referendum of the people in Blount County to vote in the November general election for or against a one percent general sales tax increase appears on page 10 among the public notices of the newspaper this week. The commission is required to advertise the bill for four weeks to allow time for public comment.

In summary, the bill provides for a referendum to be held on a tax increase of one percent of gross sales on general, amusement, and vending sales. The increase does not apply to automotive, agricultural, and manufacturing sales.

The bill specifies:

• that the first $50,000 of the estimated $3,000,000 annual proceeds to be generated will be remitted by the Blount County Commission for distribution equally to county fire departments with ISO ratings of 9 or below. The Blount County Rescue Squad is included in the distribution.

• that 50 percent of the proceeds ( approximately $1.5 million) will go to the Blount County Commission and is restricted for use in maintaining county bridges and roads classified as farm-to-market roads, major/minor collectors, or roads that have previously received federal aid; it must be spent on specific roads identified in step two of the Moving Blount County Forward Initiative as adopted by the county commission; costs of roads included are to be roughly equivalent by district to each district’s percentage share of total road miles in the county.

• of the remaining proceeds, one-third (approximately $1 million) goes to the Blount County and Oneonta school systems, divided as a percentage of the student enrollment of each system, relative to the total student enrollment in the county; to be used for capital improvement and construction or to advance technology in the classroom.

• of the remaining proceeds, one-sixth, or about $500,000, is to be divided based on population, among municipalities that lie in whole or in part in Blount County; to be used only for road and bridge improvements or to support public eduction within the town.

The county legislative delegation drafted the sales tax increase bill containing essentially the above provisions at the Blount County Commission’s request. Besides returning the bill to the commission for advertising, the delegation will undertake to introduce the bill to the Legislature and to pursue its enactment.

Responsibility for requesting the tax increase and for educating citizens as to the need for it, lies with the Blount County Commission. Passing local legislation applying to an individual county is a relatively routine activity of the Legislature. Delegation members anticipate no major difficulty in passing the measure. The bill itself does not raise taxes. It simply authorizes the county to hold a referendum of citizens to approve or disapprove the requested tax increase.

Scofield will introduce bill to support state parks

State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Arab, announced last week he will introduce a bill in the Legislature that would help restore financial viability to Alabama State Parks. The bill would prevent a significant percentage of the parks’ revenues from being redirected from the state parks system’s maintenance and improvement budget to the state’s general fund to meet other obligations of the state.

Some $30 million has be appropriated from state parks over the last five years for that purpose. Scofield said fixing the problem might require a constitutional amendment, which voters would have to approve.

Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, is expected to sponsor a similar bill in the House. The two legislators believe they have enough cosponsors to enable the bill to advance.

Scofield represents Senate District 9, which includes more than a third of Blount County – generally that part lying north of Cleveland. He also represents a portion of Marshall County and a portion of Madison County.

Standridge, others introduce ethics bill

Rep. David Standridge joined a group of nine other state representatives to introduce a bill that would “automatically suspend a member of the Legislature who holds a leadership position from serving in that position if he or she is indicted for a crime that is a felony.” The bill would suspend the member’s leadership role only, not his or her membership in the Legislature.

“The bill is not targeted at any one person,” Standridge said, although he did agree it would apply to the circumstances of current House Speaker Mike Hubbard. “We just felt there is a general need for this provision. There are precedents for suspending people from active duty in both law enforcement and education while an investigation is being conducted into allegations concerning them. We just felt people in the legislature should meet that same standard, or if anything, an even a higher level of accountability,” he said.

Standridge said the bill, HB 220, has been referred to the State Government Committee of the House. Standridge represents House District 32, including the eastern and southern parts of Blount County, and extending westward to Hayden and the the Cullman County line.

Rowe looks into Rickwood Caverns status

Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper is attempting to determine the exact status of plans for Rickwood Caverns State Park following the retirement of park director Jim Russell and assistant director Scott Fort. Reports were that both had been asked to remain at the park without pay to assist with reopening the part this spring, but both declined. According to the last information released concerning state park operations, Rickwood is expected to open in the spring. Rowe said she would try to confirm those plans along with trying to determine the implications for Rickwood should state parks be authorized to retain all of their revenues if the bill introduced by Clay Scofield should become law.

Rowe represents House District 13, made up of Walker County and the far western tip of Blount County, which includes Rickwood Caverns.