By Alison James
New parks and more county sheriff’s deputies are on the way.
A 1 percent sales tax increase for unincorporated areas passed in a special vote held Tuesday – 846 (59.8 percent) in favor and 569 (40.2 percent) opposed. Voter turnout was 4.65 percent – roughly, said Probate Judge Bill English, what he expected.
“You can’t make them go vote,” said English, who said although he heard some complaints from people who felt they were uninformed, efforts had been made to educate voters on the issue – with advertisements, fact sheets and “town hall” meetings.
The vote, which was defeated twice in the past, is estimated to bring in nearly 1 million dollars annually, to be split between the Lee County Recreation Board and Lee County Sheriff’s office. The unincorporated area sales tax will increase to 8 percent, and Smiths Station will increase to 9 percent, the same as Auburn, Opelika and Phenix City.
“Obviously we are very pleased with the results of the election,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones. “Now it is incumbent that we live up to the trust the voters have placed in us by spending the money wisely.”
For the Recreation Board’s part, the money will be instrumental in building parks and ballfields in each of the county areas – Loachapoka, Beauregard, Beulah and Smiths Station.
Holding the special referendum cost the county, English said, about $30,000, but the commission decided the investment was important to ensure the vote results were a true representation of the wishes of county residents.
“One of the concerns was the cost, and I think that’s a legitimate concern,” English said. “We could have done it in November. But we’ve done it twice in November … and in general elections, you get a lot of voters who show up once every two years or once every four years … Today meant you had to go vote on this issue. You had to want to go, to go vote on this issues. I think supporters were a little more energized to go vote yes than opponents were to go vote no.”
The commission will certify the vote at its Sept. 30 meeting and set a time for meeting with the Lee County Recreation Board to discuss how its half of the funds will be administered.