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Drake won’t vote for Hartselle tax resolution

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

HARTSELLE — Will voters’ passage of a property tax for a new high school in Albertville spur Hartselle to move forward on the tax issue?

Probably not.

Why?

Because Councilman Bill Drake said he has still seen no evidence that residents in Hartselle will support a tax increase.

This is why, he said, he will not vote for a resolution asking Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to sponsor legislation for a vote on a proposed 12.5-mill property tax increase.

While it is not law, Grantland and Orr have said they will not sponsor the bill unless the council vote is unanimous.

Although the successful Albertville tax hasn’t prompted Drake to change his mind, there is an alternative for Hartselle.

The council could avoid the Legislature and do a combination tax to pay for the new school with an estimated cost of between $25 million and $30 million.

This is how it could happen.

Because the city collects only 5 mills of property tax, state law allows a council majority vote to put a 7-mill increase before the voters.

If this passes, city leaders would then need to pass a sales tax increase to make up the shortfall for the new school.

“I have not thought about this, but I’m not opposed to doing it,” Mayor Dwight Tankersley said. “I wouldn’t want to do one without the other.”

Of course, the people of Hartselle would still have a voice because they would have to approve the property-tax increase.

Albertville, a 5A school like Hartselle and a city whose population is about the same as Hartselle, is using a combination tax to construct its high school.

Before the property tax vote, Albertville’s City Council and school board borrowed $15 million for the school.

This was to show voters they were committed to the project, school chief financial officer Judy Wallace said.

Funding options

A united city and school board had a public hearing and distributed surveys to attendees with possible funding options.

Those options included property tax increase, tag fee, occupational tax, sales tax or a combination of any two.

The majority of the surveys returned supported a combination of a property tax and $25 tag fee.

Last month, by a 102-vote majority, Albertville passed a 6-mill increase. On Tuesday, the council approved a $25 vehicle tax.

Drake said he was not aware of the situation in Albertville, but noted that he will not change his stance until he sees proof that Hartselle residents want a property tax increase.

“The only thing I did wrong was tell people initially I was in favor of the tax,” Drake said. “I changed my mind and I don’t regret any decision I have made. I have to do what I think is right.”

As for the future, one Albertville city official said Hartselle leaders can’t give up if they truly believe the high school is needed.

Albertville voters rejected a proposed tax increase for the school in 2004, the same year Hartselle electors also said no to a tax increase.

Hartselle voters also overwhelmingly rejected taxes for schools in 1990.

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