City eyes tobacco tax increase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Andalusia City Council will reopen discussion for a possible tax increase on cigarettes Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Talks of the proposed tax were tabled by the council in its first meeting of August. Council members debated both for and against the tax increase during the meeting's workshop, but all agreed to wait until September to resume discussion of an increase. Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said he was not taking a side, but strongly urged members to consider the tax during the workshop session.

The discussion was partly postponed because there was not 100 percent attendance at the meeting, according to Councilman Andy Alexander.

"We wanted everyone to be there and to be able to voice opinions," Alexander said. "Also, a lot of information including the blue book ("Laying the Foundation for Greatness") Riley released wasn't out at the time. I also wanted to hear the opinions of citizens (before voting on the issue)."

A definitive outcome can be expected from Tuesday's meeting, said Alexander.

"We'll have to vote either for or against it Tuesday night," he said. "We'll have to decide before September 9, because if the package passes we may not be able to raise taxes on cigarettes again."

If Governor Bob Riley's proposed Amendment 1 passes Sept. 9, the state tax on cigarettes would nearly double, from its current rate of 16 and one-half cents per pack to 31 cents per pack. Also, state taxes on smokeless tobacco would double. Local taxes on cigarettes, however, would remain the same under Riley's proposal.

Currently, cigarettes bear a city tax of four cents per pack. A state law, if Riley's proposal passes, prohibits the City to increase any tax on tobacco products after Sept. 30.

The council had not considered a tax increase on cigarettes until Riley's proposal was announced, according to Councilman Henry Hinson.

"Some (members) are upset the State is trying to tell us what we can and can not tax," Hinson said. "Municipalities can't raise the tax on cigarettes if Amendment 1 passes, and that has some people irritated. No one knows what the needs will be 10 years from now."

Hinson said the vote may not be an easy one.

"There doesn't seem to be a consensus on the issue," he said. "No one has made any proposals for what the tax should be if we vote on an increase."

A decision of the tax increase needs to be made Tuesday, Hinson said.

"We've looked at a number of other cities, and some of those are placing a cigarette tax at 300 percent to about 15 cents a pack," he said. "We've considered an increase for a number of weeks, and we need to do something (vote) or take it off the agenda."

Other items on the agenda for Tuesday night's meeting include: consideration of bids received for Fire Department Cascade System, a public hearing for proposed amendments for zoning ordinance, an announcement of vacancies on the Industrial Development Board, Smokin' Joe's application for lounge retail liquor licensee, a report on the Utilities Board activities and an economic development update.