No board in place to handle new tax dollars

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2003

A new tobacco tax in Marengo County could generate five times as much money as the Marengo County Commission anticipated; and no agency is in place to administer that money.

In June, State Rep. Thomas Jackson pushed a local bill through the Alabama Legislature that increased the tobacco tax in Marengo County by five cents. That tax goes into effect in two weeks and legislation adopting the new revenue says the funds must be used to support the now-defunct Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board.

In March, Randy Rushton of Frazer-Lanier in Montgomery was asked by the Marengo County Commission to come up with revenue-generating ideas. One of those ideas was to pass a 10-cent tax on all packs of cigarettes.

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That tax, Rushton said, would generate $53,000 in additional revenue each year for Marengo County.

Instead of using that plan, though, the county commission decided a five-cent tobacco tax would be plenty to help the Parks and Recreation Board.

Problem is, the tax Jackson helped pass will not draw funds just from cigarettes. Taking five cents on every dollar in tobacco tax will generate much more money than initially believed by the County Commission.

In just the city of Demopolis, tobacco tax revenue equals $4,000 a month. That money comes from a four-cent tobacco tax.

When the Marengo County tobacco tax goes into effect, the city of Demopolis alone will generate $5,000 in tobacco tax revenue each month, equaling about $60,000 a year in revenue.

At the same time, the Demopolis trade area makes up only about one-half of the number of residents who shop in Marengo County &045;&045; especially for tobacco products, which are bought largely in convenience stores. In reality, the county could generate $60,000 more a year from the rest of the tobacco purchasers in the county.

All told, the county stands to receive more than $100,000 in revenue each year from a tobacco tax.

Both Tucker and Freddie Armstead believe that number is too high.

Armstead agreed and even conceded that the number could grow higher.

Whether or not the tobacco tax generates $75,000 or $120,000, one thing is certain: There is no Marengo County Park and Recreation Board that meets right now.

In March 2001, Johnny Brooker of Demopolis was appointed to serve on that county board.

One of the reasons for the vagueness was the fact that Brooker’s board had no money to use.

George Baldwin, chairman of the Marengo County Commission, was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. However, both Tucker and Armstead believe the board will be revisited immediately by the county commission.

Tucker, who wants AlaTax to give a definite prediction of how much revenue will be earned by the new tax, shares another concern with Armstead about the new tobacco tax revenue.

One of his biggest fears is that the new money will be used to build baseball or soccer fields in outer areas of the county.

Both Tucker and Armstead represent parts of Demopolis, and they both know at least half of the tobacco tax revenue will come from Demopolis patrons.

In July 2001 &045;&045; the last time the Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board met &045;&045; members were Brooker, Arthene Williams, Roosevelt Landrum, Christine Anderson, and Robbie Kaylor.

The Marengo County Commission is scheduled to meet again Aug. 12.