Select Walker County voters are being asked to approve a new 1.5% sales tax increase to implement programs that would improve the roads, fire service and medical response in undeveloped areas of the county.
A local referendum on the Nov. 3 general election ballot calls for the creation of a County Assistance District, a governmental body that oversees funding for improvements to services that benefit the public welfare in the district. The CAD itself does not operate programs, but instead will provide nearly $500,000 in additional funding to the Walker County Commissioners Court to fund improvements in the district.
County Commissioner Bill Daugette, who pushed for the creation of the district, says that the new district could also service as a new tool for property tax relief.
“The No. 1 complaint we get as commissioners is that property taxes are too high. The number two complaint is that our roads are terrible and when are you going to fix them? So, with that in mind and knowing that the expenses of running the county are going to continue to increase, we are always searching for alternative methods of raising the necessary funds,” he said.
“The sales tax is paid by anyone who purchases items in the district, and a lot of those customers do not live here and are either visiting or passing through.”
Currently, businesses in the district impose a 6.75% sales tax, while the rest of Walker County businesses impose a maximum 8.25% sales tax. The state imposes a 6.25% sales tax, while the county currently imposes a 0.5% countywide tax. The new district would essentially create a uniformed 8.25% sales tax across the entire county.
The proposed CAD would touch every precinct in the county, made up of areas that lie outside of municipality city limits or established emergency service districts. The district does include an area within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city of Huntsville, which is where county leaders expect the majority of the sales tax revenue to be generated from.
It would also eliminate the ability for the newly created ESD No. 3 to impose a sales tax, a luxury that has generated over $1 million for the two already established emergency districts. However, ESD No. 3 will still be allowed to impose up to a 10 cent property tax, following voter approval last year.
“ESD No. 3 does not include the ETJ, or the area south of Hwy. 30,” Daugette noted. “Since the district does include those areas, the sales tax revenues will be substantially higher. In my discussions with representatives from that ESD I have stressed that it would be my intention as commissioner to ensure that they would receive some funding from the district.
“The area within the ESD is also mostly rural, and includes prison land and large ranches, so there may not be much income from a sales tax in that area. I think the ESD would have been better off if they had partnered with us and helped to pass this initiative, but that is just my opinion.”
While emergency service district’s take time to establish, the proposed CAD could generate tax revenue as soon as December.
“The benefit of voting for the district is that the revenues would start as early as December of this year, and those revenues can be used to make improvements all over the district,” Daugette added. “The ESD’s use of the funds would be almost exclusively used for fire service, leaving the roads and other improvements to be funded the old fashioned way, through property taxes.
“The court put this on the ballot so the residents could decide what they want to do. It was an idea, whether it was a good one or not will be decided at the polls, and I like that.”