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Hartselle school tax vote in peril

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Saying he speaks for the public majority, Councilman Bill Drake did not support sending a second resolution to the local legislative delegation asking for a tax vote for a new Hartselle High.

"The majority of the people in Hartselle can't afford a property tax increase, and they have no intention of voting for it," he said.

Unless Drake changes his mind, Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, said he will not introduce a local property tax bill in the House.

"Our policy (for local legislation) has always been that it must be a unanimous vote from the local government asking for it," Grantland said.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the local delegation needs to meet and discuss whether to continue the tradition. Orr was planning to introduce the local bill in the Senate.

State law does not require a unanimous council vote to get a local bill passed. Grantland said legislators use this as a requirement to keep themselves out of local politics.

Council President Kenny Thompson said the requirement has been there for years and he supports it.

"I don't blame Ronald and Arthur," he said. "We should be unanimous and work out the politics before we take it to them."

Thompson said he will put the resolution back on the council's agenda for a second vote Tuesday.

"I was planning to be at the Gulf next week, but I'll have to come back since all five votes are needed," he said.

Mayor Dwight Tankersley, a Hartselle High graduate, has supported the new high school since board member Jeff Gray broached the idea in 2005.

"I think all the council members know what their vote means," Tankersley said.

If not for language in the first resolution a unanimous council passed in November, Tuesday's vote wouldn't have happened.

The first resolution the city passed did not specify that money from the 12.5-mill tax increase had to be spent for a new high school.

Orr called this to the school system's attention.

Birmingham attorney Heyward C. Hosch, who is handling the tax legislation, said he made significant enough changes that the school system and city government had to go through the process a second time.

On Monday night, the school board adopted a resolution asking the council to call for the election.

When the council voted Tuesday to ask Grantland and Orr to sponsor the amended local bill, Drake abstained.

Thompson refused Drake's request to table the vote.

Drake said there needs to be more public discussion before the city spends a lot of money on a property tax vote that will most likely fail.

"It would be great to have a new high school," he said. "But, since we passed the first resolution, the majority of the people I have talked with have said they oppose it."

Referring to the council members and mayor, Drake said: "I would love to go behind the curtain when they vote, and I guarantee you it will be a no."

A council majority has said they oppose the tax, but wanted to give voters the opportunity to vote.

The school system proposes using the money the tax would generate to construct a high school with an estimated cost of between $25 million and $30 million.

Hartselle voters have historically rejected tax hikes. It 1990 and 2004, voters said no to proposed increases for the school system.

Hartselle residents pay 39.4 mills, which is less than homeowners pay in Decatur, Falkville and Trinity.

If the tax passes, Hartselle residents will pay the highest property taxes, 51.9 mills, in Morgan County. Decatur residents will pay the second highest, 45.3 mills.

During a public hearing in November, support for the tax and new school was overwhelming, but came mostly from parents of out-of-district students who would not be affected by the vote.

The almost 20 people who spoke at the hearing for the tax represent less than 1 percent of Hartselle's more than 8,000 registered voters.

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