By Rebekah Martin
Next Tuesday, Sept. 9, some county citizens will vote on whether to impose an additional one-cent sales tax to finance county recreation and additional sheriff’s deputies. The issue only affects unincorporated areas of Lee County and the town of Smiths Station. In an effort to give residents a time to have their questions answered and their voices heard, a town hall meeting was held Sept. 2 in Beulah.
If yes votes prevail, the sales tax in unincorporated areas will increase from 7 to 8 percent. In Smiths Station it will increase from 8 to 9 percent, the same as in Auburn, Opelika and Phenix City.
The exact wording of the ballot is: “Do you favor generating funds to support additional deputy sheriffs with an emphasis on school safety and county recreation through the levying of a one cent sales and use tax outside the corporate limits of the Cities of Auburn, Opelika and Phenix City by adopting Act 2013-325 from the 2013 Regular Session?”
The money collected, if the measure passes, can only be used for the purpose specified in the authorizing legislation and stated on the ballot. Half of the funds will go to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office for additional deputies and half will be allocated to Lee County’s Parks and Recreation program in the communities of Beauregard, Beulah, Loachapoka and Smiths Station.
Sheriff Jay Jones said that 10 new deputies could be hired on with the funds the increase would raise if passed on Sept. 9. “We are below the national average for the number sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 in population,” Jones said. “Hiring more deputies would mean faster response times and hopefully a curtailing of the crime around the county.”
In the past these purposes were funded under the county budget and were allotted as much as $217,000 before the recession hit in 2008. By law, the sheriff’s office must be funded, so among other discretionary items, recreation was one of the first budgets to be cut. Lee County’s recreation program has not received any funds since 2009.
Beulah resident Carolyn Lott is a proponent of the increase. “My heart is breaking for these kids,” Lott said. “They don’t have incomes; it’s time for those of us who do to help these kids by providing more recreational activities for them.”
Small business owner and Beulah resident Lisa Bland said she will vote yes on Sept. 9. “I go to Auburn and Opelika to shop and spend an additional 2 cents on the dollar, and our kids aren’t benefiting from those taxes,” Bland said. “What’s 1 cent? Aren’t our children worth at least that much?”
County Commissioner Robert Ham was also present for Tuesday’s meeting and tried to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the proposed tax increase. “There is an annual audit,” Ham said. “There will be no misappropriations of these funds. I have the confidence in our sheriff that even if there was no audit, these monies would be spent the way they are supposed to be spent.”
Lee County residents were urged to vote Sept. 9. If passed, the increase will take affect Dec. 1.