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Commission proposes county sales tax

By By John Wallace
Staff Writer
The Escambia County Commission proposed a one-cent sales tax Monday to help improve road and bridge maintenance in the county.
Commission members voted in favor of requesting that a referendum be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot. The referendum would allow the county to levy a one-cent sales tax "with the proceeds being divided as follows: 75 percent for the purpose of improving the quality, structural integrity and safety of the county road and bridge system, with up to 10 percent of the total receipts being available for allocation to the various municipalities within Escambia County for road and bridge projects."
Funds from the sales tax would also assist county fire departments and rescue squads with "5 percent up to $150,000 per annum" going to these agencies.
The remaining 20 percent would be put into the county's general fund.
The sales tax, if approved by the voters, would remain in place for four years. It would then die, unless it comes up for another vote.
Escambia County Engineer John Downing said the county's infrastructure has 12 posted on-system bridges that he has "red flagged" and 27 structures with a sufficiency rating of 50 percent or less.
The 12 bridges that Downing has "red flagged" are Narrow Gap on County Road 18, Dean Creek in Wallace, Little Escambia in Wallace, Big Juniper Creek on County Road 49, Little Juniper on County Road 49, Amos Mill Creek on County Road 43, Dry Branch on Smith Dairy Road, Prestwood Bridge, Fletcher Creek on Ewing Farm Road, Sizemore Creek on Digmon Road, Kirkland Bridge and Branch on Jackson Road.
He also said the county's engineering department does not receive the same percentage of funding from the county's ad valorem tax that most other counties set aside to maintain roads and bridges.
Downing said the county engineer's office is currently under financial strain and might not be able to meet federal match requirements for grants unless other projects are abandoned.
Escambia County Commission Chairman Larry White said the county has not had the funding to improve roads and the future does not look good unless another source of funding can be found.
White said the county has watched different municipalities implement a sales tax increase to raise funds while the county has never looked at this option in the past.
Escambia County Commissioner David Stokes said he supports the idea of letting the people decide on the issue. He also said the county needs additional funding because the county government has "trimmed waste and cut the fat" in recent years and there is still a need for more funds.
Escambia County Commissioner Aubrey Adams said it is vital that each county commissioner communicate with the voters in their districts and inform them of the benefits a sales tax increase would mean for everyone.
White agreed and said this is an issue for the residents of Escambia County to decide.
After the discussion, the commissioners voted in favor of sending the resolution to the state legislature for consideration to be added to the Nov. 7 ballot.