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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2007
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Petition under way for school tax
Hartselle school board collecting signatures of voters who would support an increase

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

HARTSELLE — If you will support a tax increase for a new Hartselle High School, the school system wants your signature and address.

Saying they want to keep the issue before voters, school officials are asking people at home football games to sign a petition saying they will vote for a property tax increase.

"We don't want this issue to go away because the need for a new high school is still out there," board Vice Chairwoman Jennifer Sittason said.

Councilman Bill Drake planted the seed for the petition.

He has refused to support a resolution asking Hartselle's legislative delegation to pass a bill authorizing an election on the tax increase.

Drake said he's not supporting the resolution because he has seen no evidence that Hartselle residents want a tax increase.

While it is not required by law, Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said they will not sponsor the legislation unless the council vote on the resolution is unanimous.

Drake suggested in April that school board members bring him a petition supporting the tax increase.

He said he needs to see a "representative sample" of the voters of Hartselle.

He did not give school officials an exact number, but he mentioned the 2002 legalized alcohol sales petition.

In that case, state law required the petitions to contain the signatures of 25 percent of the registered electors who voted in the last municipal election in Hartselle.

Using this formula would require school officials to get petitions signed by 833 registered voters in Hartselle.

In 2002, a record number of voters overwhelmingly cast ballots against legalized alcohol sales. The council has expressed doubts about whether voters would approve a property tax increase.

History supports them. Hartselle voters rejected new taxes for schools in 1990 and 2004.

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

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.

Success in Albertville

This is how Albertville, a 5A school like Hartselle and a city whose population is almost the same as Hartselle, is funding a new high school.

The initial resolution proposed a 12.5-mill tax increase. Sittason said there has been some talk about a combination tax.

For now, however, she said the board will continue to garner public support through petitions for the tax increase.

Sittason said she doesn't know if school leaders will present the petitions to the current council or wait until after the 2008 municipal elections.

"We just wanted to have them, but we may wait and give them to the next council," she said.

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