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First property tax hearing in Clay: ‘Nothing stable’ about city’s revenues

By Lee Weyhrich

CLAY — Monday marked the first hearing between Clay residents and officials regarding a possible property tax.

Being discussed is a five-millage property tax that could add as much as $290,000 to city coffers. The increase in revenue would also help stabilize the city’s income.

“We exist off of franchise fees, sales tax and business licenses, so there’s nothing that is stable about any of those,” City Manager Ronnie Dixon said.

The Clay City Council budgeted based on an estimated income of $3.1 million. The council budgeted $600,000 for franchise fees, $500,000 for business licenses and building permits, and $2 million for sales tax.

The actual revenues based on current estimates will be $202,000 from Jefferson County, $160,000 for business licenses, $400,000 for franchise fees and an estimated sales tax revenue of $1.9 million.

Clay residents speak about a possible property tax at Monday’s Clay City Council meeting.
photo by Lee Weyhrich

The loss of sales tax revenue could cripple the city’s budget. At the current projected budget the city can only maintain what it already has, and can’t offer any new services or complete many much-needed projects, Dixon said.

Clay currently has no property tax. The five-millage property tax proposed by Clay would cost residents $5 out of every $1,000 of their property’s assessed value. The council could levy this tax without a vote. Dixon estimates that the revenue from residential property alone would net around $180,000, based on Census data.

Dixon and Mayor Charles Webster believe the more stable revenue source would help the city better meet the requests from residents. Most opponents to the tax increase had additional requests for city officials, but they believed that other projects were less important.

Clay-Palmerdale Road resident Sherry George requested the city subsidize garbage pickup. She also believes a dog park, batting cages and restrooms at Cosby Lake are low priority. She does support the Clay Senior Activity Center, Clay City Park and Clay Public Library.

Councilman Ben Thackerson said that a poll at Clay May Days showed the restrooms at Cosby Lake were a top priority for many residents. Webster confirmed that the dog park and the batting cages had also been the suggestion of numerous residents.

The top request for opponents to the tax was for road paving. According to Webster, at the current tax level it would take nearly 20 years to complete what amounts to  $4.2 million in paving at currently estimated prices.

Buddy Williams, a resident of Self Road, believes the city’s budgeting problem is less a matter of revenue and more a matter of priorities.

“The problem a lot of us have in this room and in this city is that we’re on fixed incomes,” Williams said. “We have to make decisions every day on what is necessity, what is like-to-have, and what we’d like to do two or three years down the road, and I’m asking the city to do that also. We trust you with our money, and we trust that you will spend it wisely. It is time for the city to say what is necessity, what is near future and what is two or three years down the road. You’re asking me to pay for things you like to have, that may not be something I would like to have in the city.”

Webster answered Williams by reminding those assembled that all the items on the council agenda had been requested by Clay residents.

“If you’re asking me what I’d like to have I can get you a list,” Williams said. “If you’re asking me what I’d be willing to pay for that list gets real small.”

Canterbury Road resident Christi McKee said she was more than willing to pay more taxes for the good of the city.

“Anything that can benefit the children of this city or the citizens has my vote,” McKee said. “I would pay more mill property tax if they asked me.”

McKee cited the success of Trussville City Schools as a large part of her decision. McKee believes the next logical step to increased taxes should be a Clay school system, as she has seen an exodus of people with children leaving Clay for the better schools of Trussville. She also believes the nicer amenities that could be provided with additional tax would increase property values and make the city a more desirable place to live.

“If you don’t have anybody here in your city that has younger children, your city is going to die,” McKee said. “The people that talk about how they raised their children here — and they are grown — my question is, ‘Where do your grandchildren attend school; do they attend in Clay or did they leave for better school systems?’”

Jennifer Fitzpatrick is undecided but believes things can’t continue as they are. She believes the large age disparity leaves younger people with children and older people with fixed incomes on opposite ends of the argument with no one trying to reach middle ground. She did agree that if things didn’t improve she might have to move to a more progressive city.

Webster said there will likely be more hearings before any property tax were to be voted on.

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