Tax surplus should go to retire county jail debt

Dear Governor, Senators and Representatives:

I was excited to hear at the State of the State address that the State of Alabama had a substantial amount of funds left over from the COVID fund allocation to the state.  I was just as disappointed with a proposal to refund $400 to each individual or $800 to a family. It is rare in the State of Alabama to have any revenue available to satisfy needs that have been ignored for years.  This giveaway accomplishes nothing and further perpetuates wasteful spending.  It will be in and out of an individual’s bank account with little notice.
Let me encourage you to make an inquiry with each county commission as to their most urgent needs and how they would go about correcting or satisfying those needs.  I can’t speak to the needs of every county, but my business as a commercial real estate appraiser takes me to all counties in the State of Alabama, where I see the needs or talk to local officials who regularly point out needs that they are unable to resolve.  I live in Winston County, so let me speak specifically to those needs.
If you were to interview any county resident, you would know that our biggest and most urgent needs is for repair to county roads.  One of our commissioners held a town hall meeting at a local church to discuss the condition of our roads and what could be done.  He brought 15 copies of a handout assessing needs, and I commend him for that.  I think he may have underestimated the need and concern of the citizens, as over 200 people were in attendance.  
The big hole in Winston County’s road repair and maintenance bucket is the construction of a county jail forced upon the county with no provision for funding.  The debt service of this facility is 100 percent paid out of the budge for roads and bridges.  Let me quickly break down a few numbers (rounded) that show the disaster we are currently in, facing for the near future and what we will be enduring for the next 30 years until the jail debt is paid off:

Winston County Road Budget (machinery, labor and material:  $500,000;
Debt Service on the Jail:  $250,000;
Funds available to maintain roads (entire county, annually):  $250,000;
Number of districts in county:  Divide by 2;
Fund available to main roads (each district, monthly):  $10,417.

Clearly, it is self-evident that no entity can maintain the covered roads with this funding.  The county, or should I say its residents, have been eating this shortfall for years.  How, you may ask, are you eating it?  In car repairs and vehicle maintenance.  Because of past deficiencies, funds for road repair would help with the immediate need, but in no way solve the problem.  Road maintenance is an ongoing necessity, so funds for regular and continual maintenance must be available.
As I see it, the only way to will occur is with retiring of the jail debt, which would double the funds available for road maintenance.  The state used these funds to build and pay for two mega-prisons.  It certainly can come as no surprise that similar needs exist for counties.  The mandate was there for both the state and county to build prison and jail facilities.  The only ting missing was the funding.  The state used those funds to bail them out.  Let Winston County’s portion be used to bail them out.  The state resolved their most pressing need with these funds, not distributing them individually to her citizens.  Why do anything different for the counties having similar needs?
One dilemma peculiar to Winston County is that a large percentage of its land area is located inside Bankhead National Forest.  This land is exempt from taxation so that no revenue comes into the county coffers from the forest.  Yet, is the responsibility of the county to maintain all roads, even those running through the national forest.  The immediate repair of our roads would have to be contracted for because the county has neither the manpower nor operable equipment to complete such a monumental task in the forseeable future.
Please do not waste these precious and rare funds by refunding such a meager amount back to the citizens.  Use it for the big=ticket items, where it is impossible to accumulate funds over several years from a budget.  Such savings tend to burn holes in pockets.

Gratefully yours,

Steve Wright



See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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