FLORENCE — Beginning today, purchases in Florence will cost an additional penny for every dollar spent.
The city's 1-cent increase in sales tax starts today, bringing the total sales tax in Florence to 9.5 cents for every $1. That means $9.50 of every $100 you spend in Florence goes toward sales taxes with Florence receiving $3.50 of that.
The City Council on Jan. 16 approved the penny increase, saying the additional funds the increase provides would go toward increasing the pay scales for emergency responders and for unnamed city projects.
Mayor Steve Holt said the 1-cent increase likely will generate some $9.5 million annually. He said sales tax accounts for approximately 57 percent of the city's budget.
Florence will receive 3.5 percent of the funds from sales taxes, Holt said. The state of Alabama receives 4 percent; 1 percent goes to the city school system; one-half percent goes to the Lauderdale County school system; and one-half percent goes to the Shoals Economic Development Fund.
The decision to raise the sales tax was met with applause from police and firefighters in attendance Jan. 16, but was also met with criticism from some residents who did not want an increase and questioned why the council had rushed the vote without giving more time for public input.
Council members cited a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama report that indicated the pay for firefighters and police officers in Florence was below that of those in similar cities in the region.
The council later approved the pay scale increase, which takes effect April 1. Council President Dick Jordan said that gives the city a month's worth of additional funding from the sales tax before implementing the new pay scale.
Shannon Olive, treasurer and CFO for the city of Florence, has said it will cost $1.4 million annually to bring the salaries in line with those of neighboring cities.
That means the city will collect $8.1 million more than was required to pay the salary increases. Prior to the vote and until this week, no city official had provided a detailed list as to how that additional revenue would be spent.
On Tuesday, the council's Finance Committee gave its stamp of approval to a short list of projects, including spending $4.1 million for the River Heritage project, $3.23 million for additional streetscaping, and nearly $800,000 for facilities improvements, many of them at Veterans Park.
The estimated cost of those projects exceeds the $8.1 million projected to be raised, but Finance Committee members said the city can use $743,000 remaining from a previous bond issue to assist with the streetscaping project.
Jordan reiterated the generic list, mentioned after the vote, of possible things the $8.1 million in additional annual revenue could be spent on: paving roads, non-detailed maintenance on unspecified city buildings, and a new downtown parking deck.
His generic list also included spending money for schools for unstated purposes; funding unspecified city programs; and using the money to help pay for employee health insurance costs.
The only specific projects Jordan mentioned were connecting the existing dead end at West College Street with Alabama 20, and adding a sidewalk from Kensington Drive to Walmart.