The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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October 21, 2012

City needs money, but still should have waited

— Unless members of the Athens City Council have a change of heart between today and tomorrow, they’ll likely vote to increase the city’s sales tax by one penny from 8 percent to 9 percent at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The tax increase issue has reached a fevered pitch over the last couple of weeks not because of the increase itself, but because of how it’s been orchestrated.

On Nov. 5, a new council will be sworn in. District 1 councilor Mignon Bowers and District 5 councilor Dr. Milly Caudle chose not to seek re-election. District 4 Councilman Jim Hickman was defeated in August by Joseph Cannon.

Bowers will be replaced by Chris Seibert, while Caudle will be replaced by former Athens Police Chief Wayne Harper.

The only members of the current council who will be sworn in again will be District 2 Councilman Harold Wales and District 3 Councilman Jimmy Gill, who also serves as council president.

Much of the ire the tax issue has raised could have been avoided had the council simply decided to wait. However, there remains other concerns about what the council plans to do with the $4.4 million windfall it expects to receive from the increase.

By voting on the issue Monday, the city leadership gives the impression of trying to ram through a tax before new members are sworn in. If there is indeed a need for extra funds in the city, it is our opinion it might have been best to wait until the new members are seated and can fully learn the facts of how the money will be spent.

In our opinion, not only would it have been best to wait, but the council should have also considered holding some public meetings on the subject. While no one likes being criticized at a public forum, it would have certainly made things more above board.

The city’s leaders could have also done a better job informing the public on how the money would be spent. Per the proposal, 30 percent will go to infrastructure improvements, 20 percent to the schools’ capital account, 30 percent to public safety, public services and quality of life amenities and 20 percent for economic development incentives, grant matches and bond payments.

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