Shoals motorists will be paying a 2-cents per gallon fuel tax for at least seven more years to repay a $17 million economic development bond.
But when the bond is repaid, which is expected to be well ahead of schedule, the tax is certain to become a topic of debate again.
The tax was enacted almost a decade ago as the local funding mechanism for a partnership with the Retirement Systems of Alabama that helped build a Marriott hotel and spa in Florence, upgrade the conference center and Renaissance Tower, and build two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses in Colbert County.
The 30-year bond is expected to be repaid within a decade because fuel tax collections have exceeded expectations, and because a recent refinancing of the debt lowered the interest rate.
The legislation that created the fuel tax calls for it to be removed once the bond is repaid. But will failing state and federal budgets cause local elected officials to take another look at it? Maybe.
“You’re talking about 11-12 years before it pays off,” said Colbert County Commissioner Rex Burleson, chairman of the Public Park Authority, a two-county organization created to oversee the tax’s collection and disbursement. “That’s three (election) terms ahead, and I probably won’t be around when it comes up. When it’s four years out, that’s the time to start talking about it.”