School earmarking in jeopardy
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle City Council's plan to earmark a portion of a proposed tax increase for schools may not be possible.
City Attorney Larry Madison said while the current council can commit to the school allocation, they may not be able to tie future money to the earmarking.
"The only way to earmark funds is to add a constitutional amendment and that would require a state-wide vote," Madison said. "The council can earmark funds for schools but it's not binding for other (future) councils."
Madison said the city is investigating other avenues to allow the money to be permanently allocated to the school system. Unless an alternative way is discovered, however, the council will have to have a constitutional amendment adopted or have voters decide on a 10-mill increase without any permanent earmarking.
Having a constitutional amendment approved would require a statewide vote, a process Alabama has long been criticized for and one that has resulted in the longest state constitution in the country.
The amendment's long, drawn-out process would make it virtually impossible for the 10-mill tax referendum to end up on the August municipal ballot.
City leaders voted last week to send their request for a 10-mill tax property tax referendum to the state legislature. The council had hoped to allocate 7 mills of the increase to its general fund and the remaining 3 mills to Hartselle's school system.
The city wants to use the money to pay for an array of capital expense items, including road and sewer projects, city hall repairs and park and recreation needs.
The money for the schools would be earmarked for construction projects, namely a new high school.
The construction of a new high school could cost as much as $30 million.
The city hopes to use the money generated by a property tax increase to pay for a bond issue.
Madison is currently drafting the resolution for the council to approve and then send to the legislature. As it appears now, voters will decide on a 10 mill property tax increase, with no mention of the school allocation.
The council voted 4-2 last week to call for the referendum, with Mayor Clif Knight, and council members Tom Chappell, Don Hall and Frank Jones voting for holding referendum. Councilmen Dick Carter and Alvin Abercrombie voted against holding the referendum.
Abercrombie said he felt if residents wanted a property tax, they should submit a petition much like one that had to be submitted before the wet/dry referendum.
"People in favor of increasing property taxes should submit a petition with 25 percent of the population," Abercrombie said. "I am not in favor of raising taxes."
Jones said he, too, is against raising taxes but still voted to support the referendum.
"I'm not in favor of limiting your right to vote," Jones said.