Property tax an option
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Sometime this year, Sparkman Civic Center will get a new roof. It's a project that has been more than five years in the making.
What's taken so long?
The city hasn't had enough money to pay for the roof repairs. It's just one of a long list of projects – ranging from purchasing fire department equipment to paving roads – the city has been unable to do in recent years.
Last week, Hartselle voters rejected the legalized sale of alcohol, something some officials said would raise needed tax revenues. The amount alcohol sales would generate varied, with estimates ranging from $50,000 to $1 million a year.
The measure was soundly defeated, with 3,419 voting against to 2,025 in favor of alcohol sales.
Now, some city officials, including Mayor Clif Knight, said they are in favor of increasing property taxes to help make up the shortfall.
"A property tax is the most viable way to increase revenue," Knight said.
Last year, Knight pushed for a 10 mill increase to the property tax, a move that was met with overwhelming disapproval and was never even put to a council vote.
Ten mills is equal to an extra $100 in taxes for every $100,000 in property. Knight said a 10 mill increase would generate some $850,000 annually for the city and help lessen its over-dependence on sales tax revenues.
Currently, 5 mills of Hartselle's property tax goes to its general fund, compared to 8 mills in Falkville and 9.7 mills in Decatur. Alabama's average property tax is far below the national average, also.
According to Knight, the earlier a tax increase could be put before voters is spring. Any resolution calling for an increase would have to be approved by the city council and then put on the ballot by the local legislative delegation.
Getting a tax increase approved by the council may be difficult enough. While council members said they knew the city needed more revenue, some were hesitant to say they would support a property tax increase.
"It's (property tax increase) is something we would have to look at," Councilman Don Hall said. "It's something I would support in concept because we do need additional funding, but I think we have to be smart in the way we go about it."
Hall, along with Knight, was a member of Families for a Safe Hartselle, the grassroots organization credited with helping defeat the effort to legalize alcohol sales. He said he would like to see at least an additional 2 1/2 mills earmarked for road repair and 1/2 mills for improving fire protection.
Councilman Allen Stoner said the city will have to look at increasing property taxes by "at least 10 mills."
"We have three options on raising revenue. One option is the sales tax and another is the wet/dry issue and the third is increasing property taxes," Stoner said.
"Citizens have spoken on the wet dry issue and we don't want to increase the sales tax, so we have to look at property taxes."