City ups the ante
Voters will get say on 10-mill increase
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle's City Council wants local residents to dig a little deeper in their pockets to pay for a proposed property tax increase.
A resolution calling for a referendum on a 10 mill property tax increase was approved Tuesday night. The council wants to earmark 3 mills of the tax to the school system, but that may take a constitutional amendment. City Attorney Larry Madison has been charged with drafting the ordinance.
City officials said they hope the schools system would use the money for a new high school, a project that could cost as much as $30 million.
The resolution calling for the referendum now goes to the state legislature for its approval. If approved, the referendum will be held in August, the same time as the municipal elections.
The state legislature goes back into session Feb. 3.
At 5 mills, Hartselle's property tax is equal to the lowest in the state. Currently, a $100,000 home generates $50 for the city's general fund. If the increase is approved, the homeowner would pay $150, with $30 going to the school system and $120 to the city.
Four council members – Tom Chappell, Don Hall, Alvin Abercrombie and Frank Jones – as well as Mayor Clif Knight, voted to hold the referendum. Councilman Dick Carter voted against the increase, saying he would not support it due to the now yearly property tax assessment.
"I did not realize the state was going to reevaluate (property taxes) each year," Carter said. "This would be more taxes on top of taxes and I say no."
The 10-mill increase is higher than a plan for a 6 mill increase the council had been discussing in recent weeks. Supporters of the higher amount said it is needed to cover the city's expenses while still helping the school system.
"I am a supporter of the school system but at some point, we're going to have to take care of the city," Chappell said. "If we shoot for 6 mills and give half to the schools, we're not accomplishing anything."
Councilman Frank Jones agreed.
"The revenue stream is not growing, but residential is growing and city services are strained," Jones said. "If you are going to ask for an increase, you need to make it significant so we can do something."
Included in the items the council would like to accomplish is its capital improvement plan that was approved last year. The plan includes such items as street and paving projects, city hall repairs, drainage work and park and recreation needs. The council approved the plan without a revenue source to fund the work.
On the school system side, council members said they thought the money should be earmarked for construction projects, mainly a new high school. School system officials have said a new high school will be needed in 7-10 years. Once a new high school is built, the current building would be used as a junior high for ninth and eighth grade students and seventh and sixth graders would stay at the current facility.
Several council members said they felt it was important for the tax plan's passage to tie it to the school system, something they feel voters will support.
"We want to look to the future and the needs of a new high school needs to be one of them," Hall said.