Commission fields questions on new tax, road improvements

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Local realtor Ben Ponder addresses the Cullman County Commission at its meeting Tuesday morning. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Several residents attended Tuesday’s Cullman County Commission meeting for an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns regarding the new half-cent sales tax approved at the March 12 commission meeting.

Chairman Kenneth Walker repeatedly advised that questions regarding the tax be directed toward the Cullman County Board of Education, which requested the tax to benefit Cullman County Schools. The money will go toward facilities and safety upgrades for all county school campuses, as well as a new multi-use sports and event venue. The tax will be imposed for 15 years.

Walker estimated the tax revenue expected per year from the increase to be $5.4 million. 

Local realtor Ben Ponder addressed several questions about the new tax to the commissioners.

He spoke to The Tribune afterward, saying, “My concerns are we didn’t discuss it beforehand. We railroaded it and it was known to be railroaded. We keep screaming, ‘We don’t have resources- we don’t have resources!’ We have a chance to get some resources and we’ve already allocated where we can spend it. We are either lying about what we know or lying about what we don’t know and neither of those is acceptable to me.”

Ponder asked for more transparency. He suggested the commission, which meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m., hold one of its monthly meetings in the evening hours to allow more people an opportunity to attend.

He also questioned the recent pay raise approved for Cullman County Engineer John Lang, saying, “We’re voting in raises when I can’t drive down our roads to pick up my daughter.”

Lang addressed the increase in pay following the meeting, stating, “This was brought up in conjunction with a separate pay raise that the County wanted to have like jobs with like responsibilities to have comparable pay grade positions. As part of that, it spurred my inquiry as to what county engineers across the state were making. I received a list from ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) and I was significantly lower than the state average for county engineers. Include the assistant county engineer, too, because that list is also maintained, and he was within $1,000 of average pay for that. Seventy percent of my salary is paid by ALDOT and 50 percent of the assistant’s is paid by ALDOT.”

He added, “It wasn’t my idea. This came in conjunction with something else that includes to have other jobs with similar responsibilities and similar positions across the county to make pay more in line with them. So I thought, if that rule applied to someone else, why wouldn’t it apply to me? I was prompted by the commission to write a letter to that effect in a work session. That’s what I did and they approved it.”

Walker and Commissioner Kerry Watson approved the request. Commissioner Garry Marchman abstained from voting. 

Roads were also a hot topic, with several residents of County Road 18 frustrated by their road’s condition. Residents said they had been hopeful that County Road 18 would be repaved for the past two years. After a brief discussion about the lack of progress and the increase in dangerous potholes, Marchman spoke to his constituents. 

Said Marchman, “I know roads are a downfall that we have as a commission. We don’t have all the resources we need to do the job that we need to do when it comes to roads. I’ll be the first to sit up here and say I haven’t always made the right decisions when it comes to things. You know, I’ll tell you right now that I’ve made wrong decisions since I’ve been a commissioner, but one thing that I do is I do put my heart in what I do. I believe we can improve the way we do business, but it’s not going to be done until we find more resources to put into our roads.”

Walker and Marchman clarified the commission’s role in road improvements for the upcoming Rock the South music festival.

Said Walker, “All we did as far as Rock the South is improve the traffic plan.”

Both stated separately that the striping planned for County Road 469 will be paid by Rock the South organizers.

Marchman added, “Anything that has to be done to those roads as a result of Rock the South, they are going to take care of it.” 

In other business

The commission approved a resolution to vacate a portion of County Road 1614 in Berlin. 

The voting location for precinct 33 was moved from the Baldwin Community Center to the Baldwin Family Life Center. Precinct 5 was also moved. The Stouts Mountain location will be in the new fellowship hall at Stouts Mountain Baptist Church. 

The recent state of emergency put in place after the White City tornado was terminated. The total cost for debris removal was $12,036.77.

Approval was granted for a request to seek the opinion from the Alabama Attorney General to clarify the Supernumerary Law regarding retirement pay for a retired supernumerary elected official. 

Payment of $8,776.54 to the ACCA Workers’ Compensation Fund as a result of last year’s payroll audit was approved. 

Festhalle Market Committee requested $3,000 and was approved. 

The annual “Free Dump Day” program was approved for the month of May. Cullman County Sanitation customers will receive their vouchers for the program in their power bills.

The Cullman County Coroner’s Office will surplus a three-body cooler to be sold to Lawrence County for $2,000. A six-body cooler is being donated to Cullman from Shelby County.

Several bids were approved: 

  • Roof replacement for the Water Department/EMA building- Willoughby Roofing- $190,725
  • Replacement of 4-ton unit for POB Building- Richard Electric Co., Inc.- $7,950
  • Security system for Water Department/EMA building (reimbursable by DHS grant)- Sharp Communications- $15,124.50
  • Computer equipment – TSA 

The next Cullman County Commission work session is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on April 9 with the commission meeting following at 10. 

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