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Limestone Commission wants tax increase vote

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Four of Limestone County's five commissioners said they would let voters decide whether to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase for schools.

The Limestone County Board of Education and Superintendent Barry Carroll are asking for a countywide referendum in August. The commission must approve holding that referendum.

After Wednesday's work session, Commission Chairman David Seibert and Commissioners Bill Daws, Bill Latimer and Gary Daly said the people should get to vote on the tax.

Commissioner Gerald Barksdale said, "I'm still thinking about it."

Seibert said putting the tax increase before voters requires unanimous commission approval.

The commission will vote on the issue at its Monday meeting.

"I don't believe it will pass, but I have talked to some who plan to vote for it," Seibert said. "Even though I don't think it will pass, I believe that I have, and our voters have, earned the right to vote it up or down."

Latimer said he represents "folks who want it and folks who don't."

"With a vote, they all get their say," he said.

Barksdale said his constituents want to know who will pay for the referendum, which Seibert said would cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

"The way I see it, from my perspective, if the board requested it, then the board should pay for it," Barksdale said.

However, County Administrator Pam Ball said that legally, the commission must pay for the referendum.

If approved by voters, the hike would raise the sales tax rate in the county to 7 cents on the dollar and in Athens to 9 cents.

Carroll has said the additional tax would bring in an estimated $5 million for the system in 2008. Athens City Schools would also get a share of the increase.

The tax revenue would be split between the two, based on student population, meaning about 75 percent would go to county schools.

The school board put limits on the tax. It would end in 10 years unless voters renewed it. The board also could spend the money only on capital needs, such as acquiring land, building schools and gyms, renovations and expansions.

The board wants to back a $50 million bond issue with the tax money to address growth issues, such as building new elementary feeder schools for Clements, Elkmont and East Limestone high schools, and replacing the older gyms on some campuses.

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