Council forced to increase city taxes

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tough economic times have forced City of Atmore officials to make some tough decisions.

Monday, the council voted to increase the city’s sales tax 1 percent, gas tax 1 cent, lodging tax 2 percent and the rental/lease tax 3 percent. In addition, they voted to double the cost of lots at the city cemeteries.

Mayor Howard Shell said the increases are not something the city is taking lightly or decided to do overnight.

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“We have spent several minutes over the last several weeks discussing this,” he said. “We will not be the first city nor will we be the last to make adjustments. We are running behind on paving streets and providing other services. This was not done lightly and we sincerely hope the people understand. If they are watching the news, then they see not only other cities, but also other states are having some trouble.”

The city sales tax is increasing from 8 percent to 9 percent; the lodging tax from 8 percent to 10 percent; the gas tax from 2 cents to 3 cents and the rental/lease tax from 2 percent to 5 percent.

Shell added that the increase in taxes are necessary for the city to continue offering the services citizens have grown accustomed to.

“Prior to doing this, we made personnel adjustments,” he said. “We have not bought new police cars or new fire trucks, we have purchased three or four used fire trucks from other municipalities. We have cut every corner possible, but we have reached a point we felt we could not go any further.”

As for the cemetery lots, Shell believes the increase will put Atmore in line with other cities across the state.

“We looked at other cities to see what their cemeteries are doing and they are more expensive,” he said. “It costs us major expenses to provide cemeteries that are dignified for our people. The cost of lawnmowers, bush hogs, weed eaters and the manpower is expensive.”

Cemetery lots will now cost $900 as opposed to the previous $450 for Atmore residents.

In addition, Shell said he and the council discussed every possible scenario prior to deciding to make the changes.

“We didn’t do any of this without talking to business people and others in town to get their opinions,” he said. “This wasn’t done with us just sitting down and making these decisions. No one likes to make these decisions. No one likes to raise taxes. This is something we have been talking about for two years. We are going to be good stewards with the city’s money.”

The four tax increases will go into effect April 1, but the cemetery increases will begin immediately.

In other business, the council:

• OK’d the National Day of Prayer event to be held Thursday, May 5 with the first event from 6 a.m. until 8 a.m.

• Approved the Ladies of Essence request to hold its annual Mardi Gras Parade at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 5.

• OK’d Atmore Relay for Life chair Julie Ray’s request to use Tom Byrne Park on Saturday, April 30 for the annual cancer fundraising event.

• OK’d extension of a landscaping grant for the intersection of I-65 and Hwy. 21.