News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2007

Decision time for Athens
Proposed 1-cent sales tax increase: Here’s what readers asked to know about

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Banning booze and paying more sales tax.

That’s what voters in Athens and Limestone County are trying to decide.

City voters will vote on both issues Aug. 14. One is whether to repeal alcohol sales in the city limits. The other is whether to raise sales tax by 1 percent, for a total of 9 percent, with the money going to city and county schools.

County voters will vote only on whether to raise sales tax 1 percent, for a total of 7 percent, for the school systems.

Many voters have questions they want answered. The Daily gave voters the opportunity to submit their questions and have them answered in the newspaper.

Tax questions

This article addresses the tax questions. Monday’s Daily will address the alcohol questions.

Why is the Limestone County School System asking for the tax?

Superintendent Barry Carroll said the system lacks student facilities. For example, Clements High has nine portables. Piney Chapel Elementary was built in the 1950s.

“No one has come up with a different plan that would benefit both school systems,” he said. “We’re growing, and if BRAC comes in full force, it will compound the problem.”

BRAC is the federal Base Realignment and Closure process that is moving military jobs to Redstone Arsenal.

The revenue will be split between county and city schools based on student population, which is about 75 percent to the county and 25 percent to the city.

How much does each high school principal make?

In the county, principals sign three-year contracts, so each amount is different. Carroll said Limestone ranks lowest in the state in administrative costs. Ardmore, $99,046; Career Technical Center, $71,489; Clements, $96,615; East Limestone, $92,919; Elkmont, $87,532; Tanner, $90,983; and West Limestone, $89,550.

Barry Hamilton, finance director with Athens City Schools, did not respond to the question.

How much does each head football coach make?

Coaches receive a teacher’s salary, plus supplements and pay for working extra days.

Ardmore, $50,842; Clements, $61,860; East Limestone, $50,560; Elkmont, $60,621; Tanner, $50,982; and West Limestone, $66,517. Hamilton did not respond for Athens City.

How much does the county superintendent make, and what perks does he receive?

A yearly salary of $129,533, plus a vehicle.

How much gained?

How much will Athens and Limestone schools get on the additional 1.5 mills, and from the state bond issue?

Limestone will get $7.3 million from the bond issue. Carroll said that would not build one school, but with the additional sales tax, the system could use that bond money elsewhere.

The county will get about $420,000 from the additional 1.5 mills, which is the increase in property tax that voters approved statewide.

Athens will get $2,444,340 from the bond issue and $280,000 from the 1.5 mills.

How much money was generated from the letter sent to Limestone school employees asking for a $10 donation, and what is that money funding?

The letter, sent on behalf of the Friends of Limestone County Schools, has generated $900. It has funded brochures.

What do the schools plan to spend the new tax money on?

The referendum specifies that county schools must spend the money on capital needs. The county wants to use the revenue to fund a $50 million bond issue. This is an alphabetized list of how it would spend that money:

Ardmore High: New gym to replace oldest gym, $3.5 million; cafeteria expansion, $400,000; middle school/high school renovation, $400,000.

Clements High: New feeder elementary school, $11 million; middle school/high school renovation, $400,000; drainage repair and improve entrance from U.S. 72, $200,000; widening Ezell Road, $100,000.

East Limestone High: new gym to replace oldest gym, $3.5 million; new feeder elementary school, $11 million; middle school/high school renovation, $300,000.

Elkmont High: new feeder elementary school, $11 million; middle school/high school renovation, $400,000; cafeteria expansion, $400,000.

Owens Elementary: new gym, $1.5 million; front entrance paving, $100,000; cafeteria expansion, $300,000.

Tanner High: oldest gym renovation, $300,000; acquiring land and doing paving, $300,000; front lobby/office renovation, $300,000; cafeteria renovation/expansion, $400,000.

West Limestone High: acquire land, $300,000; new gym to replace oldest gym, $3.5 million; middle school/high school renovation, $400,000.

The referendum does not specify how city schools will spend the money, but Superintendent Orman Bridges Jr. said the city would use its share on capital needs.

The city’s five-year capital plan includes elementary school renovations, classroom additions and a three-phase, $5 million athletic complex for Athens High.

Why should I vote for the tax when parents have to send not only classroom supplies like Ziploc bags to school with their children, but also janitorial supplies like Lysol and paper towels?

Carroll said the Lysol and paper towels are used throughout the year for the students in the classroom, and the system supplies janitorial supplies for the restrooms and cafeteria.

Sales tax

Do city leaders think the 1-cent sales tax will hurt the city?

Mayor Dan Williams said he opposes the tax because the city’s General Fund will not receive a portion.

“This will place businesses inside the city at a disadvantage with businesses outside the city,” Williams said. “Those outside businesses in our county are located in Huntsville, Madison, Decatur, Ardmore and Elkmont. I think it will certainly mean a loss of sales tax revenue to the city’s General Fund, and that would mean less money to provide services inside the city.”

Council President Harold Wales said it would cause shoppers to go outside the city for items like automobiles, building materials and groceries.

“I want our people to be able to buy things in Athens cheaper than they can in Huntsville and Morgan County,” he said.

“If this was successful, and it raised our sales to 9 percent, this would tie our hands from getting more revenue off raising sales tax. I do not believe our citizens will stand for a 10 percent sales tax. It has been my belief that the county should ask the people in Limestone County to bring their sales tax up from 6 percent to 8 percent.”

Councilman Ronnie Marks agreed, saying the county going to 8 cents would have produced the needed revenue for school capital improvements.

Johnny Crutcher and Jimmy Gill said they do not support the referendum. Councilwoman Milly Caudle said she does not think it will “be a total disaster.”

In the know for the vote

  • Friday is the last day to register and be eligible to vote on these two issues.

  • Aug. 9 is the last day to apply for absentee ballots. Go to Circuit Court Clerk Charles Page’s office in the courthouse.

  • Polls will be open Aug. 14 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Spectators can watch the returns at the Clinton Street Courthouse Annex.

    Holly Hollman

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