City opposes 10% gas tax dist. repeal, supports 3-cent state-wide increase 

By Blenda Copeland

After a fellowship, get-to-know-each-other-better luncheon Feb. 2, it’s unclear the status of city-county relations among some local leaders.

At its meeting Feb. 8, Russell County Commissioner Chance Corbett called attention to the fact the Phenix City Council approved a resolution at the Feb. 7 council opposing the commission asking the state legislature to undo Act 859 of the state legislature’s first special session of 1969 - a law that, if undone, would give the county back 10 percent of the gas tax that it is currently required to give to the city. 

City Manager Wallace Hunter brought up the city resolution for a vote during his turn to speak on the agenda Feb. 7.

Act 859 of the state legislature’s first special session of 1969 stated that 10 percent of Russell County’s gas tax money would be given to Phenix City to maintain roads in the city. 

In its Jan. 25 meeting, the commission voted to ask the legislature to reverse the law so that the money would come back into the county’s coffers and thus, be under the county’s control.

In an interview Monday, Phenix City’s city manager confirmed why he opposes the 10 percent distribution being taken away from the city.

Hunter said he’s not “in a war” with the county, and that he supports a separate, proposed 3 percent gas tax increase that the county also supports. 

However, regarding the 10 percent distribution, Hunter said the loss of that revenue, which averages around $200,000 a year for Phenix City, would hurt.

“We have roads that have to be done in the city, and that’s really costly,” he said, pointing out that Phenix City is inside Russell County.

He also noted that the population and gas stations are both more densely concentrated within Phenix City. And, that many of today’s vehicles are more gas efficient than before, resulting in fewer gas taxes because people don’t have to refill their gas tanks as often. In addition, Hunter talked about how asphalt doesn’t last as long as it did in the past, and how there are other issues with roads: sinkholes and collapsed roads related to January’s floods, for instance. 

Regarding statements that the city’s doing so much better financially these days, Hunter said, yes, maybe in some other areas, but, the city’s money is budgeted and earmarked for different things.

“My opposition is against taking anything away what’s already in place,” he said, referring to potentially losing the 10 percent gas tax distribution.

He said yes, the city took over a lot of streets, but those same streets still need to be maintained, and the city needs money to maintain them.

“We need $1.5 to $2 million per year to keep up with a good maintenance program, and we don’t have that as it is,” Hunter said. “We are 80 years behind on the replacement of our streets.”

Ultimately, if the legislature approves the county commission’s request to take back the 10 percent distribution and put it back into the county’s coffers, it can only be used to maintain roads in the county, including filling potholes and paving new roads. 

Three-cent gas tax increase proposal

As for a separate, three-cent state-wide gas tax increase that the county also is supporting this legislative session, Hunter said any money is helpful when it comes to maintaining streets, and that both the county and the city need money to do so. He’s in favor of the three-cent increase.

In a previous meeting, the Russell County Commission approved a resolution of support on a statewide request by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) asking the legislature to increase gas taxes by three cents. The three-cent increase - if the legislature approves it - will pay back a proposed one-time $1.2 billion state-wide bond to go toward roads and bridges upkeep.

In an earlier briefing to the commission, County Engineer Shawn Blakeney said the three-cent increase would apply for the next 15 years, toward the proposed 15-year bond. He also said that if the state approves the increase, Russell County’s share of the money could be around $16.1 million, with 20 percent of that automatically going to municipalities in the county based on population. Hurtsboro and Phenix City would get some of the money. Blakeney estimated that the remaining $13 million or so could help the county re-surface about 100 to 150 miles of county roads. 

In an update Monday, Blakeney said that the ACCA estimated by current standards, it costs around $80,000 per mile to pave a road. Blakeney pointed out that’s just the cost of laying down asphalt; it doesn’t account for the additional cost of patching or leveling a road. Using ACCA estimates, it would cost a little less than $450,000 to replace a bridge spanning 100 linear feet. To further put the numbers into context, Blakeney said the ACCA estimated that if a person drove an average of about 20,000 miles a year in a vehicle that averages about 23 miles per gallon, he or she would pay about $25 more for gas per year (less than $1.50 a month).

Anyone interested in hearing more about why the county commission supports the proposed three-cent gas tax increase and how it could help county road maintenance should attend the community meeting about it on Feb. 23. 

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET at the old, historic courthouse in Seale, 91 Longview St., Seale, Ala. (Note: an elevator now helps those who need assistance reach the second floor). The meeting will cover the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP-2) concerning Russell County road and bridge projects and the proposed three-cent bond issue.

For more information about the meeting, call Russell County Engineer Shawn Blakeney at (334) 855-0209.