Tax decision now in hands of legislature
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle's City Council is sending its request for a 10-mill property tax increase to the state legislature, a move Mayor Clif Knight concedes is "an exercise in futility."
The city council voted 4-2 to send the request to the local legislative delegation, even though the members said they won't approve the request unless the council vote calling for the referendum was unanimous.
Mayor Clif Knight and Councilman Alvin Abercrombie voted against sending the matter to the legislature. Knight said he was doing so because he knew it would be rejected. Abercrombie has been against the tax increase in the past and favors asking residents who want it to present a petition before any referendums are held.
Rep. Ronald Grantland and Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts said it has long been their practice to reject tax increase requests unless a council can agree unanimously on the referendum.
City Councilman Dick Carter, who had been voting against the tax increase referendum, changed his position Tuesday night. Carter said he voted in favor of this latest resolution because it gives Hartselle residents the final say.
"I will give the people a chance to vote, but under no circumstances can I support a 10-mill tax increase," he said.
The resolution sent to the legislature allows for 7 mills of the increase to go the city's general fund. The remaining 3 mills would be set aside in the city's coffers to be used for future school construction.
The council was operating under a tight time frame to get the request to the legislature.
When and if that matter fails to make it through the legislature, City Attorney Larry Madison has found a loophole that would allow the city to set the date of the referendum itself.
Alabama law allows municipalities to set a property tax referendum without legislative approval if the increase doesn't push the city past a 12.5 mill limit. Currently, 5 mills of property taxes go to the city. The council is considering a resolution that would raise property taxes 7.5 mills, bringing the total millage that goes to the city to 12.5. The state-set limit doesn't include property taxes levied for the school system.
The proposed resolution for the 7.5 mill increase splits the tax three ways: 2.5 mills for road construction and improvements; 2.5 mills for the city's general fund; and 2.5 mills for the school system.
The loophole also allows the council to permanently earmark the funds. A legislative resolution won't allow the city to earmark funds past their terms of office.
Knight said that resolution will be discussed at the council's next work session, scheduled for Feb. 23 at 6 p.m.