Governor Kay Ivey signed the “Rebuild Alabama Act” into law March 12th, which will raise prices at the pump a total of ten cents over the course of three different steps.
The first step is a six-cent increase beginning September 1st this year (2019) – followed by an additional two-cent price increase starting October 1st of 2020 with the third and final two-cent increase scheduled for October 1st, 2021. The funding from this act is intended to “…increase Alabama’s public investment in transportation infrastructure, promoting economic growth and increasing public safety on Alabama’s roads,”
Bottom line – we’ll all be paying more at the pump. But, it’s not really as simple as it may at first seem. The extra money coming in from that tax isn’t going to solve all of our problems when it comes to our local roads and bridges – that added income may be a silver lining but not one that shines exceptionally bright:
Cherokee County Commissioner Roger Nichols.
During our recent conversation with the first-term District II Commissioner he informed us that before he was even sworn-in, he’d received a call from the county engineer stating that the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) had notified him that the safety rating of the double bridges on County Road 17 had dropped – effective immediately.
With that new safety rating, a school bus could not use the bridge and would have to be re-routed and that would increase the average trip time by 30 minutes for the driver and students. He added that we have many other bridges currently in danger of being downgraded – and that has the potential to affect everything from school and work traffic, to transportation of products and goods in and out of the county.
Nichols told us “I’m not a fan of taxes any more than any of you are – however, I have come to understand that our incoming funds are earmarked.”
He provided a breakdown of Ad Valorem, or Property Taxes in Cherokee County – based on percentages:
Rescue Squad 1.19%
Fire Departments 3.57%
County Roads and Bridges 5.95%
Health Care Authority (Hospital) 9.52%
County General Fund 11.9%
State of AL 15.47%
Board of Education 52.38%
If you live in an incorporated municipality, your town levies an additional tax equal to the County General Fund (approximately 11.9%). Less than 6% of property taxes go to roads.
We asked Nichols where the lion’s share of money for road repair actually comes from, and he informed us that most of that money currently comes from gasoline taxes NOT including diesel fuel. Under the old gas tax, that amount went 100% to ALDOT to repair State Roads; however under the new gas tax counties will get revenue from diesel fuel at the same rate as gas. This was an important component of the Rebuild Alabama Act for counties as we have many diesel vehicles on our county roads but have not been receiving the income off of diesel fuel sales.
Nichols pointed out that gas is taxed on a per gallon basis, and that amount of tax per gallon the county received hasn’t been adjusted since 1992 – meaning whether gas prices went up or down each county got the same amount per gallon.
Over the course of time, two things have happened: vehicles have been engineered to get more miles-per-gallon which means they buy less gallons while still using the same amount of road resulting in counties receiving less income, plus having to deal with higher prices of labor and materials – resulting in increased expenses – to take care of the same roads since 1992. A total of 27 years.
The maintenance and repair of our roads and bridges has been a can kicked down the proverbial road for two decades until we have reached a crisis point that left few options for solutions. He wanted to stress “I want to mention that we have very good employees in our Highway Department that are capable, and willing, to do the work many other counties have to have contractors for – and this saved us many thousands of dollars.”
As we neared the end of our conversation Nichols summed things up this way:
His parting statement included the fact that no one in Cherokee County wants to ever drive on dirt roads again “…and that certainly ain’t the way to attract business and tourism to our county. It’s time to make it a better Cherokee County for everyone.”