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Paying for Hartselle school
Similar-size Albertville found
a way; can city follow example?

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

HARTSELLE — How can two cities of similar size with the goal of constructing a new high school be so far apart, especially on funding?

Hartselle and Albertville are 5A city school systems with appointed school boards.

For at least the last five years, both systems have talked about constructing a new high school. This is where the commonality ends.

Albertville has been able to move ahead with its project, in part, because the school system agreed to contribute funds to help pay for a school.

"Everybody knew we needed a new high school," Albertville City Clerk Carolyn Camp said. "We just had to find a way to pay for it."

After voters said no to a 6-mill property tax increase in 2004, Albertville school and city leaders met to discuss alternatives.

The accounting departments for the city and schools met and went through their budgets. From this meeting, the school system agreed to provide $500,000. The City Council gave $400,000.

"We went to a bonding company and asked how much we could borrow," Camp said.

Albertville's new high school, which has an estimated cost of $36 million, is being constructed on the existing high school site. Camp said the city borrowed $15 million and plans to construct the school in stages.

"If the schools had not contributed some of the money, we probably wouldn't have been able to borrow any money," she said.

Hartselle board member Jeff Gray broached the idea for the high school in October 2005, but offered no funding plan. Since then, city and school leaders have not talked seriously about paying for a new Hartselle High with an estimated cost between $25 million and $30 million.

Council President Kenny Thompson said the only problem he sees with Albertville's plan is the Hartselle school system has not been willing to contribute any of its local money.

"The school board is going to have to look closely at the way it does things and come up with some money," said Thompson, a retired school administrator.

"I've worked on school budgets before, and there is always some fat," he continued. "They are going to have to trim the fat and bring something to the table."

Superintendent William Michael Reed said the council has not asked the system to contribute money.

Even if city leaders do, he said, the school system does not have a substantial amount of extra money in its budget.

Asked if the school board could contribute, Reed said, he'll have to see what offer the council makes.

Camp said most of the money Albertville is using for the $15 million bond is revenue from a 1-cent sales tax the council enacted in 1998.

To fund the additional $21 million, Albertville is looking at other new taxes. Electors will vote on a 6-mill property tax increase in late June. Albertville voters rejected the same tax for the new school in 2004.

Beginning next year, Camp said, the city is imposing a $25 fee on all vehicles in Albertville. She said the local bill exempts residents 65 and older with one vehicle, and limits how many vehicles are taxed in one home.

Albertville had public hearings on the $25 fee and there was no "ground-swell" opposition to it, Camp explained.

"Residents know we need a new high school and that we have to pay for it," she said.

Hartselle has proposed to let electors vote on a 12.5-mill property tax increase for the school.

But, Councilman Bill Drake is refusing to vote for a resolution to get the local bill through the Legislature. He said voters didn't ask for the tax increase.

The local legislative delegates are refusing to break from their rule of requiring unanimous consent before introducing local bills.

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