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Mayor Sarah Hill

Business leaders voice concerns on proposed tax

By Michael Butler

"This is another tax," Erik Creswell said at the Sept. 20 public meeting regarding a proposed rate structure increase on business licenses.

Creswell is general manager at Tallassee Automotive. His business and others in the city are potentially facing a significant increase in their annual fee to the City of Tallassee.

"7,200 percent is a pretty big number right," Creswell said. "With the proposed measure, that's my business license increase. There's a big difference between a gross receipt, a gross profit and a net profit. This goes off gross receipts. We're going to be taxed one of the highest rates of any business in the city. There's businesses that millions upon millions more than us that are capped at $1,000 or $1,500."

David Lawrence owns Tallassee Super Foods and the Hampton Place Shopping Center.

"My family has been here for 55 years. We've also invested a lot over those 55 years," said Lawrence. "We're responsible for the Dollar Tree, Papa John's, Jack's, East Tallassee Pharmacy. It's great. We're having these businesses come in. Every business contributes four percent in sales tax. A tenth of one percent off a business that doesn't come here is zero."

Both Lawrence and Creswell gave comparisons of business license costs in other municipalities.

"We have dealerships everywhere from Key West to Grand Rapids, LaGrange and Auburn, so we have a good spectacle of business license costs," Creswell said. "Our most is Auburn. It's $3,380. That's minute compared to what your proposing."

Super Foods in the 1980s

"I talked to a very good friend of mine who owns several stores in neighboring cities," Lawrence added. "LaFayette for me would be $500. Dadeville's at $1,200. Alex City is $5,000. Phenix City is $5,500. Montgomery is at $30,000. I look at it as an incredible increase all at once.

"I pulled numbers from Eclectic, Wetumpka, Montgomery, Auburn. Montgomery has infrastructure. They have two interstates that run through their town. Auburn has 86,000 people there six to eight weekends a year. Wetumpka has infrastructure, promotion and a US highway that runs through their town. Their tax rate is cheaper. Eclectic's is half of what ours will be. Has Eclectic added a Taco Bell, a Walmart SuperCenter, a Tractor Supply, a Papa John's, a Grove Station?"

Grove Station's Corrie Sid just celebrated the first anniversary of her business in the downtown district.

"One of things I'm hearing is you're trying to run it like a business," Sid said. "There is no one that knows more about how to run a business than these people here. Of all the people in this town who have spent money in this town and on this town, it's these people here. Not only are we citizens of the town, we're investing to make this town better."

Councilman Bill Hall said there are different designations based on the type of business.

"The largest proposal is 1/10 of one percent," said Hall. "Wetumpka has had 1/4 of one percent for the last five years - 2.5 times higher than what we proposed."

Hall told of the financial strain the city is facing. The proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year is $11.7 million. The city is paying $1.3 million annually on bond indebtedness. In addition, another $4.2 million goes to the city's payroll.

"36 percent of our budget is for employees," said Hall. "You may think that's a lot, but the number of employees has dropped every year. We've got people doing more with less resources."

The city is under a consent order to upgrade its sewer treatment facility. It also ranks first in the state in amount of cast-iron pipe to be replaced.

"I don't mind paying taxes," Sid said. "I need to know that those taxes are going to a lot of different places, not just to a place that is a mistake that was made by people that were here before me."

Mayor Sarah Hill noted that business licenses in Tallassee have not increased since 2002. She also thanked the members of the business community who attended the meeting.

"This is the reason for this meeting," she said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity for business owners and the council to meet and find common ground as we move toward updating the license fees. We believe a collaborative approach is the best way to address this issue."