By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
Some years back, the city of Warrior considered an increase in its sales tax rate, but changed its mind when residents objected.
But with a major source of that revenue about to leave the city, and with health-insurance costs increasing for city employees, the Warrior City Council increased the rate Monday night to 4 percent — and with no opposition.
That makes the overall sales tax rate at 10 percent, when added to the state’s 4.5-percent share and Jefferson County’s 1.5 percent.
The council voted to suspend the rules unanimously, which allowed it to pass the new ordinance on first reading instead of waiting until the next meeting in two weeks. They then voted 5-0 to approve the increase; Belva Hamilton, who is an assistant manager at Piggly Wiggly, abstained because of a conflict of interest.
Mayor Johnny Ragland said that he had heard from no residents who opposed the move since it was first discussed at their previous meeting. Several council members said the same, and no one from the general public showed up to speak one way or the other about the tax hike. Only Police Chief Ray Horn said someone had complained to him about the hike.
“I think people realize that if we are going to keep city services at the level they need to be, we’re going to have to do this,” Ragland said.
The ordinance also raises the tax rate on businesses outside the city, but within the Warrior Police Department jurisdiction, from 1.5 to 2 percent. This does not affect businesses within the limits of neighboring municipalities, an issue which previously sparked a legal conflict with businesses north of Warrior in Blount County.
The rate increase technically takes effect in five days, but City Clerk Demetra Mixon said the company that handles the collection of taxes from businesses requires 30 days to handle such changes.
Warrior is facing the loss of Dewey Barber Chevrolet, which will be moving to Gardendale later this year. That business is a major source of sales-tax revenue for the city, providing more than $100,000 a year.
In addition, the city’s health insurer is imposing a premium increase on coverage for city workers, meaning that the city might be forced to raise the amount workers contribute to their coverage — or in the case of single employees, contribute to their coverage for the first time, as they currently have their entire premium covered by the city.
After the sales tax increase was passed, the council voted to table action on raising health-insurance contributions by employees. “We still may have to look at this down the road,” Ragland said.
In other business, the council approved skid-car training for all city employees who drive as part of their duty. The training session, held in Oneonta, teaches driver how to handle various dangerous situations; it also reduces the city’s insurance premiums, resulting in a net savings.
The council also schedule a special work session for March 14 at 5 p.m. at City Hall. It’s part of a continuing series of work sessions Ragland has requested, as he and the council work to get a handle on the city’s finances and expenses during the tough economy. The session will be open to the public.