CIP in place, but there's no money for projects
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
In a perfect world, Hartselle would be able to pave about four miles of city roads per year, purchase needed public works equipment and improve area parks, all on the money generated by current sales and property taxes.
This isn't a perfect world.
In reality, many of these projects have been delayed for years as city officials have searched for ways to fund them. One such way – a 7.5 mill property tax – will be decided by voters on Tuesday.
The city is asking for a 7.5 mill increase, with 2.5 mills set aside for future school construction. The other 5 mills would be divided evenly between road projects and the city's capital improvement plan. The city's $30 million dollar CIP was approved in March, but officials conceded there was no money to complete the projects.
The tax increase would mean an additional $75 per year on every $100,000 of assessed property.
The referendum is set for Aug. 24, the same day as the municipal election. Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
If approved, the tax money would allow the city to complete some of the long-neglected work it has been unable to finish due to lack of funds.
"There are $30 million of needs in the city, $17 million for which we have no money at all," Mayor Clif Knight said.
Alabama's property taxes are the lowest in the nation with 5 mills per year currently going to the city. That's about $50 per $100,000 in property.
This year's capital improvement plan was the city first since 1969. Among the items it includes are:
Money is also set aside for park and recreation improvement and expansion, equipment for the public works department and upgrades to the industrial park.
The tax revenue set aside for roads would help cover the cost of grants and matching funds for several projects. The capital improvement plan includes work on Thompson Road, the intersection of Bethel, Main and McClanahan streets and work on a northern bypass.
Critics of the tax plan say the city should operate on its current funding level or use some of the $4 million it has in reserves.
"I don't support a property tax increase," Council candidate Mark Mizell said. "I think there are more revenues than the council is saying."
Others, including Councilman Tom Chappell, said he supported the property tax increase because he saw first-hand the city's needs.
"I do support the property tax," he said. "I've been fortunate enough to sit on the other side of the table. I know we've got to find a way to fund the capital improvement plan."
This property tax referendum is the latest in several efforts to increase the city's coffers. Earlier plans to legalize alcohol sales or increase sales taxes failed. The city then turned to a plan to increase property taxes by 10 mills only to see it rejected by the local legislative delegation because the council request calling for the increase wasn't passed unanimously. City Attorney Larry Madison then found a loophole in Alabama law that allows municipalities to hold their own property tax referendums if the sought-after increase doesn't push the city past a 12.5 mill limit.