Alexandria tag office

Residents renew their car tags at an annex office in Alexandria Wednesday afternoon. A bill by K.L. Brown would write that tag office into state law -- making it a lot harder to close.  (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star) 

For five years, Calhoun County has been issuing license plates from the basement of a former church in Alexandria. A bill now before the Alabama Legislature would enshrine that arrangement in law.

“We get as much business there as we do at our Anniston office,” said Barry Robertson, the county’s license commissioner.

On Tuesday, Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, filed a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives that would require Robertson to “establish a branch office in the community of Alexandria” – and would require the county general fund to pay for it.

Attempts to reach Brown for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday, but Robertson said the bill would apply to its already-existing Alexandria office.

For years, Calhoun County residents had to drive to Anniston, on the south end of the county, to get tags for their cars. A 1980s law set up an office in Piedmont, on the county’s north end. Robertson set up the Alexandria office in 2012, in a former Methodist church building to accommodate the growing unincorporated community there. While Alexandria isn’t a town, it’s a little bigger than Weaver, with a population of about 3,980 people in the unincorporated community, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates.

“If you’re in Ohatchee, Wellington, Webster’s Chapel or Pleasant Valley, it’s a shorter drive,” he said.

Asked why the branch office isn’t in Jacksonville, nearer the center of the county, Robertson said the county had an offer too good to turn down. An Alexandria resident, owner of the former church property, pledged to lease the building to the county for $1 per year, he said.

Robertson said the bill would give the office in Alexandria the same status as the Piedmont office – meaning it would take an act of the Legislature to shut it down.

The parking lot of the license office, which still has a steeple with a cross and stained-glass windows, was packed during the lunch hour Wednesday. Wellington resident Melissa Barksdale said the office has saved her a lot of time.

“It’s a lot better than going all the way to Anniston,” she said.

Jacksonville resident Nicole Johnson, in line next to Barksdale, said she hadn’t even been aware of the Anniston office. She said she heard about the Alexandria office by word of mouth.

The bill would also require the county to set up a tax office in Alexandria for three months per year – October through December – when taxes are about to come due. County administrator Mark Tyner said the cost of adding that function would be minimal.

The bill isn’t scheduled in any committees this week, which means it likely won’t see action until next week at the earliest.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.