Huntsville City Council Members and Residents React to Proposed 1% Sales Tax Hike

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT) – Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has introduced an ordinance that calls for a one-cent sales tax hike at Thursday night’s city council meeting.

Thursday afternoon, Mayor Battle held a news conference to make a case for why council members should approve the tax hike, which could be voted on before Christmas.

“Our infrastructure is essential to our quality of life, and that means keeping that average 18-minute commute time to and from work,” said Mayor Battle. “Huntsville is a regional employment center, and each of these road projects improves our ability to move traffic in congested areas.”

Battle said the additional one percent tax is projected to generate approximately $30 to $35 million per year and will allow the City to match the State’s $125 million funding requirement and commit any remaining funds to new road projects and capital/economic development projects.

“No one wants to raise taxes, but these roads are not wants. They are essential needs,” said Mayor Battle. “The sales tax allows us to proceed with a “pay as you go” approach and does not impose debt on future generations.”

There are no plans for a public referendum on the issue, but residents spoke their minds on the issue at Thursday’s Council Meeting.

“Trying to come up with $25 million dollars? Don’t come to the people with this,” said  Jackie Reed, a former mayoral candidate, often critical of city government.

“Why not put 50 cents a pack on the cigarette tax and save the rest of the people the taxes,” homeless advocate Rusty Loiselle chimed in.

If the one cent hike goes through, Huntsville’s overall sales tax rate would jump from eight to nine percent.

Councilmen Will Culver and John Olshefski were quick to support the Mayor’s proposal, thanking him for a proactive approach to finding funding for the city’s arterial thoroughfares.

“I don’t know about you, Mayor, but I don’t come that far to work, but my commute isn’t 18 minutes anymore,” said Olshefksi.

On Wednesday, WHNT News 19 spoke with City Councilman Bill Kling about the issue.  He said he’s not yet ready to take a position on it.

“Before we do any type of a tax increase I want to look at every option,” said Kling. “Let’s look at areas where we could cut back. Is there any way we could reallocate the projects that we have? Can we get the county government to go in with us?”

Kling brought those questions up to city leaders at Thursday’s meeting.

The city of Madison passed a half-cent sales tax hike earlier this year, giving it an overall rate of 9.5 percent for portions in Limestone County and 9 percent in Madison County. The rate in unincorporated parts of Madison County is 5.5 percent.

City officials say the tax would not take effect until March 1, 2014.