Huntsville Faces Taxing Question

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville city leaders are crunching the numbers, after a proposal from the state to fund half the cost of seven major road projects. The total price tag of the projects is $250 million, which means the city would need to come up with $125 million. However, for Mayor Tommy Battle, there’s no question the money will be found. He says, “it’s a necessity for our area, and we’re going to find a way to do it.”

The question remains how. Huntsville has operated on a lean budget for the last five years. While city officials may be able to trim some areas, the savings are unlikely to amount to tens of millions of dollars. That leaves only new revenue to fill the gap. Battle says everything is on the table, including a tax increase.

In August 2012, voters approved an extension of a 6.5 mil property tax to help fund city schools.  The last sales tax increase, also to benefit schools, occurred in 1989.  Since then, the city sales tax has remained at 3.5 percent.  Adding in state and county sales taxes, Huntsville shoppers pay 8 percent on their transactions. A straight rate hike isn’t the only possibility, though. Huntsville could also follow the lead of other municipalities that have instituted a penny sales tax to raise large amounts for capital projects.

Mayor Battle plans to present the details of his funding proposal to city council members later this week.  Council President Mark Russell says, “I assume the mayor will propose some way of raising revenue whether it be, I assume, a tax increase or maybe a license increase. Then, we’ll obviously cut as many costs as we can to make this work.”

If the funding is found, work would begin next year.  The first road project would be finished in 2017, the last in 2020.  Here’s a list of the proposed projects and a timeline of construction start dates:

  1. U.S. 72 East at Moores Mill and Shields Rd/Epworth Dr (2014)
  2. South Memorial Parkway Overpasses from Martin Rd to Lily Flagg Rd (2014)
  3. University Drive six-laned from Providence Main to County Line Rd (2016)
  4. North Memorial Parkway Overpasses/Service Roads at Mastin Lake (2017)
  5. South Memorial Parkway – improvements from Weatherly to Hobbs Rd (2017)
  6. Martin Luther King extension – from Pulaski Pike to U.S. Highway 231 (2017)
  7. Cecil Ashburn Drive improvements (2017)