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Athens officials say poll favors alcohol, not tax

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — It’s not scientific, but a city official said a canvass of two districts indicated voters will support alcohol sales but not a 1-cent sales tax increase.

Tuesday, Athens voters will go to the polls to decide whether to repeal alcoholic beverage sales and whether to raise sales tax to 9 percent for schools. Limestone County voters will decide whether to raise sales tax to 7 percent for schools.

City Council President Harold Wales said he joined volunteers and went door to door Monday in his district in eastern Athens, as well as Councilman Jimmy Gill’s district in southern Athens. The group visited about 75 homes.

Wales said the intent was to encourage people to vote and to think about supporting alcohol sales.

“I asked them to think about the places they can now carry their family to shop and eat and go to the theater since the city went wet,” Wales said. “I asked them to then vote their conscience.”

The city began legal sales in December 2003.

The city collects an alcohol tax and sales tax on alcohol, and city leaders have said budget cuts are forthcoming if alcohol is repealed.

Alcohol opponents say Athens would continue to grow without alcohol, and point to Applebee’s locating here when the city was dry and to Wal-mart, which does not sell alcohol.

Wales said the majority of residents he met Monday want to keep alcohol.

“Some had voted against it the first time but said they would vote to keep it this time,” he said. “When they brought up the tax, they said they didn’t favor it.”

City leaders have spoken against the tax increase, saying it would be detrimental to Athens because its sales tax would be higher than Huntsville’s or Madison’s.

The Limestone County Board of Education and Superintendent Barry Carroll proposed the tax increase, which would fund capital needs at county and city schools.

Mayor Dan Williams said remarks Carroll made in a question-and-answer article Carroll and his staff compiled and sent to media outlets indicated the city would raise sales tax for its own general fund if this tax did not pass.

“When the previous council wanted to do a tax, I vetoed,” Williams said, “so I don’t know where that is coming from, other than he’s trying to get his tax passed.”

When the school board first made the tax proposal, the mayor and some council members did say they could look at imposing a half-cent or 1-cent tax before the vote so the money would go to the general fund.

That’s because the city general fund won’t get any of the tax on Tuesday’s ballot.

The council never moved forward on its own tax.

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