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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2007
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Morgan school tax passes in landslide

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Morgan County school officials, employees and students can quit fretting and take a big sigh of relief.

County voters overwhelmingly supported renewal of a 7.3 mill property tax in Tuesday's special referendum.

The amendment received 88.3 percent of the 4,006 votes cast, so county schools won't lose about $4.6 million annually from their budget. Just the threat of lost funding had school officials worrying until results started coming into the Morgan County probate judge's office.

"It's just a great relief," said school board member Carolyn Wallace. "I was very worried because of some of the negative comments several residents made to me."

Elected in November, Bob Balch has only been superintendent since Jan. 2, so he was definitely relieved not to have to face a major crisis early in his administration.

"I was confident our citizens would support our schools, and they did that today in a tremendous way," Balch said. "I've always believed our fine citizens would support our school system."

No one was more relieved than Finance Director Rodger Spillers, the man who would have had to create a budget without this huge chunk of cash.

With 85 percent of the budget consisting of salaries and benefits, teachers and support staff would have born the brunt of the cuts. Maintenance, transportation and extracurricular activities would also have been targets for cuts.

"I just had to assume the people would support it because I don't know how we would have cut that much out of our budget and still operate the school system as we should," Spillers said.

With temperatures in the 30s and dropping into the upper 20s as the day went on, school officials agreed the cold weather and low turnout probably benefited their cause. Only 4,001 of 24,744 registered voters voted. Only three voted at Sparkman Civic Center in Hartselle.

'Rough weather day'

"If they went out to vote, they were probably very dedicated to our cause because it was definitely a rough weather day," Balch said.

The tax almost expired unnoticed. Officials discovered oversight too late to get the renewal on the November general election. As a result, the school system already has lost about $100,000 from a motor vehicle tax that the county collects monthly and was part of this renewal.

School board Chairman Jimmy Dobbs said Spillers put safeguards in place to make sure another tax renewal doesn't get past the board again.

ELECTION RESULTS
How Morgan countians voted Tuesday on the renewal of a 7.3-mill district school tax:
Yes ........ 3,538 (88.32%)
No ......... 468 (11.68%)

(Complete, unofficial results.)

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