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A penny for your school?
Hartselle school funding on council agenda for Monday; sales tax increase possible

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Is a penny sales tax increase on the way for Hartselle?

That may be the only way for the second largest city in Morgan County to pay for a new high school.

The City Council that pledged no new taxes during the 2004 municipal elections will discuss funding for the new high school at Monday’s 7 p.m. work session. The meeting is open to the public.

“Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to move forward,” Mayor Dwight Tankersley said. “We can sit around and argue. But if we don’t move forward, we’re all going to be in trouble.”

Funding for a new Hartselle High has been in limbo since Councilman Bill Drake didn’t support a resolution asking for a local bill enabling a property tax vote.

School officials want voters to decide a 12.5-mill increase to fund the school, which has an estimated cost of between $25 million and $30 million.

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said they will not introduce the bill unless a unanimous City Council adopts the resolution asking for it.

The Council tabled the resolution last month. So, at some point, city leaders will have to bring it off the table and vote it up or down.

Meanwhile, Tankersley said he is assuming that Drake will not change his position.

“With the property tax vote apparently dead, our next avenue is a sales tax,” he said.

In August, Council President Kenny Thompson campaigned for a 1-cent hike, but backed away when told that the tax wouldn’t generate enough money to pay for the new high school.

He still supports that tax increase, but he wants the council to get a portion of the money to fund city projects.

“Maybe we can come up with an equitable solution that the city and school system is
comfortable with,” Thompson said.

Unlike a property tax increase, Hartselle can raise the sales tax rate without a public vote.

A one-penny hike, which would raise about $1.49 million annually, would increase the sales tax rate in Hartselle from 8 cents to 9 cents. This is what customers pay in Decatur. In rural areas of Morgan County, it is 7 cents.

History of opposition

This is not the first time that a 1-cent sales tax increase has been on the table to fund city and school projects.

In 2002, the council met with civic and community leaders to discuss ways to fund projects such as restoring the old F.E. Burleson school and improving drainage.

When identifying possible funding sources, one participant wrote “sales tax increase” on an index card and passed it to the facilitator.

“Let it hit the floor,” said former Councilman Don Hall, who opposed the tax increase.

“I’m not for it at all,” said Linda Webster, who last month wrote a letter to Drake and the legislative delegates criticizing them for blocking the 12.5-mill tax vote.

The message from the 2002 meeting was clear: Hands off sales taxes.

Following a failed alcohol referendum that could have generated between $500,000 and $600,000 annually for the city, Hartselle convened its residents again to discuss taxes.

By a 5-to-1 ratio, residents told city leaders during a 2003 public hearing that they “absolutely” opposed a tax increase.

Following this hearing, former Councilman Tom Chappell lobbied for a 1-cent hike, but he couldn’t get the Council majority to support him.

Voters spoke again during the 2004 municipal elections, when they rejected a 7.5-mill property tax increase 1,987 to 996.

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