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Commission looks at road repair finance options

At Monday morning’s meeting, Franklin County commissioners tried to alleviate any concerns residents might have about a five-cent “pay as you go” gas tax that would fund roadwork throughout the county.
Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore said information that the commission was trying to pass the tax without the residents’ knowledge was untrue and wouldn’t even be legally possible for the commission to do.
“The only tax we are allowed to levy on our own is a temporary sales tax to benefit the schools,” Moore said.
“This is something we actually did back in 2008 when we enacted a temporary one-cent sales tax to go to the schools. The tax was only temporary from January to June and then it had to be voted on by the people before it could be instated for a two-year period and then it comes up for a vote again every two years.
“We are not allowed to enact a gas tax on our own, so any information saying we had plans to push this through are false.”
Moore said the commission had only discussed the gas tax as a way to help the cash-strapped county pay for much-needed road repairs to many of the county’s roads.
He said the funds would have helped the county provide matching funds for the projects they have applied for through the state’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) program, which is the largest road and bridge improvement program in the history of Alabama.
Moore said gas taxes are currently in place in surrounding counties such as Colbert and Lauderdale counties and Franklin County has no gas tax at all to help with road repairs.
Moore said no action on the matter was planned at this time and commissioners unanimously voted to table the issue at Monday’s meeting until it could be researched further.
“We have been hearing from residents for months who are tired of driving on roads that are in extreme disrepair,” Moore said.
“Some of these residents have even suggested a gas tax as a way to raise county funds and get this roadwork completed.
“This was just one of several options we were looking at to help the county.”
Moore said other options included refinancing several loans the county has while interest rates are low, including refinancing the bond on the county’s jail.
“We always want to have the county residents’ best interests in mind, so we’re going to re-evaluate what all can be done and then go from there,” Moore said.
He added there was a lengthy process the commission would have to go through if they did decide to pursue the gas tax in the future.
Moore said the commission would have to pass a resolution concerning the tax that would then be sent to local legislators Rep. Johnny Mack Moore and Sen. Roger Bedford who would have to introduce the legislation while the Legislature was in session.
“Once that process was completed, the local bill would have to be advertised in the paper for four weeks and then it would be placed on the ballot for the residents to vote on in 2014.
“Even if we decided to pursue the gas tax, it could not be enacted unless the voters voted it in – unless they believed the tax was necessary to help with these road repairs.
“This would be completely up to the citizens to do as they pleased. If it was voted in, it would be their decision. If it was voted down, it would be their decision.
“We just want to explore all of our options and do all we can to make Franklin County a better place.”
Moore said they would revisit the issue in several months after the commission has had sufficient time to research other avenues of finance.
In other business, the commission addressed the following items:
• Hired Matt Weeks as a full time correction officer with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office effective April 15.
• Approved the Franklin County personnel policy.
• Approved the Franklin County Highway Department request to hire seven temporary employees for seven months.
• Accepted a surety bond for the Hershel Nix Subdivision on Kelley Road in Phil Campbell for a water line that will be installed.
• Gave the Highway Department permission to let bids for In-Place asphalt.
• Discussed Gravel Hill Road and Hwy. 16 letting and matching funds.
• Approved increased construction cost on Nix Mill Pond bridge from $54,000 to $68,000.
• Adopted a resolution declaring April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
• Approved the quote on a short-term note for $500,000 for six months for ATRIP funds from Community Spirit Bank at the rate of 1.49 percent.
• Approved the quote on a five-year note for $276,000 for the refinance of the jail from Valley State Bank at the rate of 2.49 percent.
• Approved the quote on a 10-year note for $617,000 from Valley State Bank on the refinance of two notes in the Highway Department at the rate of 2.60 percent.
• Approved pest control bids.
• Approved the discarded tire/right of way cleanup program.
• Accepted the agreement with Lee Helms and Associates for the Spruce Pine Community Center storm shelter.
• Accepted the agreement with Lee Helms and Associates for the Payne Creek Village storm shelter.
• Reappointed the following safety committee members: Crista Madden (safety coordinator), Roy Gober, Phillip Wilson, Mark Massey, Bill Cheatham and Delane Clark.
• Approved a budget amendment for the Sheriff’s Office for $5,963.43 for the purpose of law enforcement training.