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Residents address concerns with commission

The Covington County Commission welcomed several citizens who had submitted requests to speak at a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Carey and Bonnie Langley returned to express their opinion on the development of the abandoned CSX Railroad line into a Rails to Trails project. They discussed a previous resolution adopted several years ago, which outlined the commission’s support for the project. The Langleys requested the commission rescind the old resolution. No action was taken during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think one morning we’re going to wake up and hear a bulldozer running, so I challenge you to bring this back to a vote to rescind this whole resolution, and we get back to ground zero,” he said.

Blaine Wilson addressed the commission about the same issue and was insistent on the commission suspending the rules and rescinding the previous resolution. No copy of the resolution was provided, and no action was taken at the meeting. Commissioner Tony Holmes assured the audience he intended to have the item on the agenda for the next meeting, which would allow time to review the resolution and make a decision on the overruling.

“This Rails to Trails will have a direct impact on that budget you’re about to discuss. Just like the Sheriff said, the buck stops with him. When that trail becomes Covington County that means it has a direct or indirect effect on your budget. Regardless of whomever owns the property, this commission will be responsible for funding those efforts,” Wilson said.

Wilson also discussed the commission’s budgeting of simplified sellers use tax dollars — taxes from online purchases — and whether those funds should be divided among county schools.

“If you go to a brick and mortar store and pay sales tax, where does that money go?,” Wilson asked the commission.

Commission Chairman Greg White said the county has complied with how those funds.

“Four percent goes to the state, some of it goes into the general fund, some goes into the Education Trust Fund, and some goes to both the city and county. Roughly a third comes to the county and goes to the general road and bridge fund. The balance of that goes to education.”

White assured Wilson discussions were ongoing with the leadership of all three school systems.

“The legislature imposed this tax by law directing that the proceeds be deposited to the general fund of the county and municipalities. We comply completely with the law,” he added.

According to White, the budget is about $670,000.

“We have not appropriated any to a city or county school system. In fact, over the last number of years, we have done 30 something projects for schools with funds from our general fund. Just this year, we have completed a project at Pleasant Home School that would have been paid for out of the county funds. The school may have paid for a portion of it through materials,” he said.

Wilson’s concerns were that the commission has been collecting simplified sellers used tax and not passing those dollars on to local schools. “If I choose to make an online purchase for myself where I’m charged 8 percent sales tax, then as a citizen, I have a reasonable expectation to believe that my sales tax is going to support my school system. I don’t care what the state calls it. It’s a sales tax because when the customer pays it, it’s 8 percent and a line item on your purchase.”

White said the county has not withheld any funds from school systems.

Another resident, Buster Boyd, spoke on his concerns about a judicial order regarding COVID-19 restrictions in Covington County courtrooms. “I’ve asked you to stand up to [Judge Lex Short], and it’s your prerogative, not his to address these orders.” Boyd’s grievance was taken under advisement.

Administrator Karen Sowell presented a resolution in regards to supplemental pay under provisions of COVID funding for essential workers. The commission adopted the resolution providing $1 per hour additional pay for all but the highest-paid county employees. In addition, this pay will not be available for elected officials.

The remainder of the meeting outlined the proposed budget. Sowell discussed several key points of the budget. Chairman White discussed those points of emphasis further with all the commissioners. The budget included a 2 percent raise in the step-plan for employees and does not impact elected officials’ pay.

A cost of living raise of 4 percent was approved for all employees across the board. The total budget is in excess of $17 million.

In other business:

  • The commission appointed Opp City Councilman Gary Strickland to serve on the county’s Personnel Review Board.
  • The commission reviewed bid recaps from County Engineer Lynn Ralls and awarded three different bids to the lowest bidders.
  • The commission approved $500 of tire purchases under the emergency purchase provisions of the Alabama Bid Law.

The next meeting of the Covington County Commission will be held Tuesday, Oct. 12, 9 a.m., at the Covington County Administration Building. The public is invited to attend.

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