LaFayette holds public hearing on one-cent sales tax increase

Published 8:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2021

Before its final meeting of June, the LaFayette city council held a public hearing to hear from the public on a potential one-cent sales tax increase, which would move the sales tax to 10 cents, which would equal Lanett and Valley. 

Mayor Kenneth Vines began the process at the June 14 council meeting, sending a letter to the council regarding the increase. 

“As you can see, the current 2021 budget is able to operate in the black ($21,573.10 surplus) only because of the elimination of all major project requests and somewhat of a small carryover from the previous year’s budget,” the letter reads. “Please keep in mind that also on the expenditure side, we have already made minor cuts in all departments across the board. In many cases, those cuts are not sustainable because if they continue from year to year, they affect critical needs and infrastructure.”

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According to Vines’ letter, the one-cent increase could bring in $250,000 to the city. Vines has brought up the idea of increasing fees for the past few council meetings. 

“As I’ve said on previous occasions, this is a team effort. This is not a Mayor Vines effort,” Vines said Monday. “During my campaign, there were some things that I said I wanted to do to see the city moving forward. Once I got on the inside of things and sat down with the clerk, the first thing I looked at was our budget. I said ‘Is this it?’ He said ‘What you see there is what we got.’ I knew then that we had to get some things done.”

Vines recalled his first couple weeks as the city’s mayor, where he had to sign checks of $30,000, $20,000 and $30,000 to replace necessary equipment to help the city run. 

“I wasn’t dealing with $1,000, $2,000, $2,500 or $3,000. I was dealing with $25-30-40,000,” Vines said. “I said then that we really need to get the ball rolling on this.”

In his letter, Vines spelled out some of the major equipment the city needs, including a new limb and fire truck, ambulance and to continue to develop the city’s new park, which is still in its earliest stages.

Vines stated that because the city’s fees are so low, most of which are the lowest in the surrounding area, the city cannot afford to develop the city.

“The previous administration agreed to purchase some land [for an addition to the city’s main cemetery] and if we continue to go at that rate [$150] we’re not even going to make enough to pay ourselves back for the land,” Vines said. “There are certain things that we need. Running the city of LaFayette is just like running your home. You need money to run your home, and here in the city, it’s the same thing. We’re in the process of checking into some things but we’re borrowing from other cities. With our fire department, we’re borrowing a truck, and to me, that’s not acceptable. The purchase alone to repair our own truck, which is over 20 years old, it’s over $50,000.

“The discussion was brought up where we might have to go to a volunteer fire department. Even with a volunteer [department], you still have to have a fire truck to go on the call. Regardless of how you look at it, there are still some things that you still have to have, but I don’t want to go to that. I didn’t come here for that. That’s not moving the city forward, but I’m not saying that might not happen.”

Councilmembers Shannon Hunter and Michael Ellis were in favor of the increase.

“We have fees that need to be raised. I’m just looking here at the water fee, where we have a projected fee of almost half a million dollars, because we don’t charge enough to cover the cost of the operation,” Hunter said. “There are things like that we really need to address. Sales tax could be useful, it’s much more marketable I’ll say if we can say if it is going to be designated for a specific purpose.”

Councilmembers Tammie B. Williams and Toney B. Thomas wanted to hear from their constituents more before making a decision about the increase. Thomas mentioned the properties the city owns that it hasn’t used or made progress with since the purchase.

“I understand that there is a need, and there is always a need to do things better in our city,” Thomas said. “I understand from a financial point what we need to do, but I also think we need to look at, the city owns a lot of land that we’re not using. We need to look at a lot of this land that we have, the McClendon building for example. It’s a waste of money and a waste of time. We need to get rid of that thing.”

There were eight LaFayette residents present during Monday’s public hearing, four of which spoke against the sales tax increase.

“I’ve heard not $200,000 but millions of dollars that you’re talking about, and I’m kind of weary that a one-cent sales tax increase is going to do anything positive except possibly raising our budget by 2 or 3%,” LaFayette resident Chuck Blanton said. “It’s a drop in the bucket with potentially other options. We need businesses and people moving in rather than moving away, and I can’t help but wonder how raising taxes will encourage that. To me, we need to develop real revenue streams and I don’t think adding $200,000 to a $7.3 million budget is going to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We need to make this place an exciting place to live. We need to make this place a desirable place to live. 

“Look what’s happening in Opelika. My gosh, it’s on fire. They have a 9% sales tax there.”

Blanton spoke about using the old city park instead of focusing on the new park that is yet to be fully developed. He would like to see the old park hosting concerts.

“If we were to use some of the stimulus, grant or whatever money and develop that city park because it’s beautiful down there. It’s the ideal scenery to have people come in,” Blanton said. “We could have concerts, hip-hop one weekend, Gospel and Blues the next. We could have music every weekend nine months out of the year. We live in a hub here. We are the county seat and we are surrounded by communities. The city could be hiring the bands and developing a revenue stream while making it an attractive place to be.”

Calvin Miller, who has lived in LaFayette for 51 years and is retired, disagreed with the increase for several reasons. The first being he is on a fixed income, while the second being he could drive to West Point to buy his groceries, where he wouldn’t have to pay sales tax, Opelika or Auburn where the tax is still 9%.

The council will hold a second public hearing at a later date to get more feedback on the sales tax increase.