Armstead supports sales tax

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2003

The county commission voted July 8 to begin the process of enacting a one-cent sales tax. Commissioners Armstead, Max Joiner, John Crawford and George Baldwin voted for the motion; commissioner Ken Tucker voted against it.

A public hearing on the tax will likely be held shortly after the next commission meeting August 12, Armstead said.

When you get all the politicians in the area to come forward and say they need additional revenue, the need becomes evident, he said. "When the probate judge, the tax assessor, the district judge and the circuit clerk (and sheriff) come forward and say we need these things, then it lets the county commission know as a whole that there are needs.

However, the current pressing needs of county schools, road repair, renovation of the Marengo County Courthouse and annex, payment of indigent care at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital and even medication for the mentally ill are dictating a move to a one-cent sales tax.

County schools are going to need aid. "The foundation has done well (in Demopolis), but the cutback of county schools is tremendous."

The road department is going to have to pay for trucks, he said. Also, "when you’ve got 300 miles of dirt road and you may get one paved two miles every year, you’re never going to get it done. Our thoughts are ‘get some funds, do a bond issue, put it on a five or 10-year plan, go ahead and pave the roads.’

The hospital is currently suing the county over pay of indigent care. "…A law was enacted that says you must do certain things for the hospital. There are no funds….We can fight it over and over. In a period of time, you’re paying lawyers and you’ve still got to do what the law says."

The county also needs to invest in paying for medication for incarcerated mentally ill persons. "Most of them are down there because mental health (officials) don’t have the medication to give them," Armstead said. "The state has cut back. What you’re doing is you’re sending mentally ill people to the county. There’s a liability there."

Armstead also addressed the need for an economic development director and board for the county. The four-laning of Highways 80 and 43 are necessary for development in the county, he said. Then we must be in position with a working board to negotiate with potential companies. "Hopefully, there will be some funds available from the sales tax (for development)."

Commissioner Tucker is in favor of the one-cent sales tax if there is a detailed plan of what the revenue is being used for, the citizens are heard from in a public meeting, and the tax is voted on by citizens in a referendum.

Armstead said there was nothing wrong with having a public hearing on tax, "but the final decision is going to have to made by the body of the commission that was elected to do it."

A politician has to understand there are certain things that must be done, Armstead said. "He’s playing politics," he said of Tucker.

He expects the public hearing to bring out people with many different ideas how the tax should be spent – not to mention the people who oppose tax under any circumstances. "You’ll listen to what the people say. Some of the ideas from the forum you will use…."

Armstead said he would depend on the advice of other elected officials in the county because they have likely heard from business leaders. The elected leaders often will hear more honest opinions that those expressed in a public forum, he said.