Madison County school in Limestone?
System buys land, is asking neighbor to share tax funds
By Holly Hollman
Filling out an income tax return is probably easier than figuring out this.
The Madison City school system has bought 80 acres in Limestone County and is contemplating building a school there.
Madison is seeking property tax money from Limestone County to fund it. The Madison city board’s 80 acres is on the west side of County Line Road across the street from Heritage Plantation.
Madison Superintendent Dee Fowler said Madison is considering a school in Limestone because of land affordability and availability.
What’s the problem?
Limestone’s school system doesn’t want to give up any money.
So how much money would Madison get?
Grab plenty of scratch paper and load up on erasers to keep this straight.
Madison-annexed residents don’t pay 10.5 mills in property tax levied by Madison County that goes to Madison City schools. Madison has broached three ways to get money from Limestone to fund its school system, because Madison schools serve 388 students living in Limestone County.
In 2005, Madison sought an attorney general’s opinion on property tax disbursement. The opinion stated that Madison was entitled to the 3 mills of property tax that Madison-annexed residents paid to Limestone County. That money went to Limestone schools.
In response, when Limestone renewed that tax in February 2005, it left the annexed areas out of the equation. Madison-, Huntsville- and Decatur-annexed residents no longer pay that 3 mills.
This year, Madison appealed to Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, who along with Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, introduced a bill in the legislative session that would add 10.5 mills in property tax onto Madison-annexed residents. Voters statewide will have to vote on this constitutional amendment.
If approved, Madison expects the 10.5 mill increase on Madison-annexed residents to generate about $100,000 a year, initially.
Most recently, Madison has talked about getting a share of Limestone’s 5.5 mill property tax, should it build a school in Limestone.
During the Limestone County Board of Education’s November work session, Superintendent Barry Carroll said Fowler told him Madison wants to build a high school in Limestone. Carroll said Fowler asked about getting a portion of the 5.5 mills all Limestone County residents pay for schools.
Fowler told The Daily on Wednesday that the grade configuration for the school is undetermined.
“When, where and if a new school would be built has not been determined by the board,” Fowler said.
If Madison does build in Limestone, Fowler said, Madison would “be required to get money from the Limestone collection instead of Madison County for the students that attend a school in Limestone County.”
Limestone County Revenue Commissioner Brian Patterson said that currently money from Limestone’s 5.5 mills in property tax is split between Athens City and Limestone County schools based on enrollment. This year, that tax will generate about $3.2 million, and 72 percent of it will go to Limestone County.
Patterson said the state superintendent sends his office a letter, showing the breakdown of money based on enrollment.
Dennis Heard of the state Department of Education’s funding and accountability section, said that in Hoover, which is in two counties, the entities reached an agreement to divide money based on where students live.
Heard said if Madison, Limestone and Athens cannot agree, the state department would require them to split the money based on school enrollment.
“When you do that, you do not take into consideration where the students live, only where they go to school,” Heard said.
“I don’t like the fact that they annex, and then want to take our money to build their schools,” said Limestone board Chairman Earl Glaze, who represents the eastern district. “Madison and Madison County should fund all of their schools. We shouldn’t have to take a cut into our percentage of tax money. They know beforehand that they’re not getting Madison County tax off people annexed from Limestone.”
The Limestone County Commission cannot prevent Madison from building a school here, said Commission Chairman David Seibert.
“Without home rule or metro government, there’s really nothing we can do,” he said. “I’m sure the courts would side with Madison on the tax issue because the money they’re paying to Limestone schools, they see no benefit of it.”
Fowler said a system locating a school across county lines is not an anomaly. For example, Hoover is in Shelby and Jefferson counties.
As Madison continues to grow into Limestone, it seems inevitable it will build a school to serve those students.
In November, Madison’s council annexed 17 acres of Limestone County property owned by Beaver Dam Properties.
At its Sept. 10 meeting, the council approved the Greenbrier Improvement District, which includes 72 acres near Powell Road in Limestone County.
For now, those Madison-annexed students attend Heritage Elementary, Liberty Middle and Bob Jones High, all located in Madison County.
What about Huntsville?
Madison has bought 80 acres in Limestone County and is contemplating building a school there and seeking property tax money from Limestone County to fund it.
That has led to speculation that Huntsville will follow suit, and that Huntsville will take over Creekside Elementary and East Limestone High School. Huntsville has annexed property around Creekside.
Here’s what Huntsville Superintendent Roy Ann Moore told The Daily about such speculation:
“We don’t own any property in Limestone County that I know of. We have had no discussions about building a school in Limestone County in the near future.
“Dr. Carroll (Limestone Superintendent Barry Carroll) and I joked during Huntsville’s big annexation around Creekside that he would sell Creekside to me for $20 million, and I said, ‘No deal.’
“I’m sure there is a lot of speculation when Huntsville annexes, but we couldn’t just take Creekside or East Limestone. We would have to buy a school, and before we did that, we would have to look at the buying price vs. the cost of construction.
“We have never bought a school.
“As annexation continues, and we see an increase in student population in Limestone, we would have to address the issue of providing a school for those students.”
Barbara Williams, Huntsville’s director of pupil services, said about 134 students living in Limestone County attend the following Huntsville city schools: Providence K-8, Williams K-8, Columbia High School and New Century Technology High School.
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