Marshall County Tag Fee Debate Continues

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) -- The chairman of the Marshall County Commission does not expect the commission will impose a car tag fee on county residents.

James Hutcheson said he will not put a discussion of the fee on the commission's agenda unless one of the four other commissioners asks for its formal review.

The Alabama legislature passed a bill in 2009 to allow county commissions and city councils to charge an extra fee up to $25, with all revenue to go to their respective schools.

Marshall County Schools superintendent Tim Nabors recently asked for the maximum fee for each license plate, to pay 17 armed school resource officers to protect county schools.

"When I was elected to office, I made a comment that I would not raise a tax on the people of Marshall County," Chairman Hutcheson said.

"I received [78] phone calls last week, and 76 was opposed to the car tag fee.  Two was in favor, and that speaks very highly of how the people in the county feels about it," he said.

Hutcheson said he would prefer to have a referendum on the issue, which would let all of the affected residents vote on it, but he said the law doesn't give the county that authority.

"We cannot allow the people to vote, we either have to pass it or not," Hutcheson said.

He said he would like the state legislature to amend the current law.

Superintendent Nabors said he would like for there to be other amendments, such as an exemption on people 65 years of age or older, and limits on the number of vehicles on which a particular owner would have to pay fees.

"Right now there's no limits, and if someone had a business and they have 15 vehicles, they would have to pay each one," Nabors said.

"What I would like to see is that brought down to four or five.  If a family has several children and all of them are driving at the same time, that's quite a bit of money.

"I can understand the concerns there but we're just looking for anything and everything to keep our kids safe," he said.

Nabors is not giving up and said some of the opposition is because people do not know the details of his proposal and how the school system would spend the additional revenue.

He plans to present that when he asks for the fee again at Monday's commission meeting.

"I'm going to have a layout of what we're going to have the money spent on:  research officers first and foremost, buildings, staff, and lay out every penny, so they've got an idea of what we want the money for, but the main fact is the safety of our children."

Nabors said it would cost about $800,000 to have an officer at every school.

He and Hutcheson estimate there are about 100,000 vehicles in the county, and if the commission imposed the maximum fee it would raise about $2.5 million dollars a year.

"I'll take what I can get, but if I ask for 10 and I get 2, if I ask for 25 and I get 10--I'm doing this for our kids and I'm going to ask for the full amount," Nabors said.

"If they give us anything I'll be tickled to death with it."

Nabors said if the schools received more than the amount needed for resource officers, the next priority would be hiring teachers, followed by building improvements--particularly putting new roofs on some of the schools.

"We're strapped, and we've just met our one month operating balance and we've worked six years to get there," Nabors said.  "I think ours is $3.2 million that we have to keep on hand, and we have to work real hard just to maintain that."

The superintendent also met Tuesday afternoon with Marshall County Sheriff Scott Walls to work on a contingency plan in assembling deputies at a school in the case of an attack.