By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Residents of St. Clair County vote today on a large property tax increase to benefit the school systems in the county. St. Clair County is served by the Trussville City School System, the St. Clair County School System, the Pell City School System, and the Leeds City School System.
The tax increase is very controversial in this overwhelmingly Republican County. Republicans typically want to see lower taxes and smaller government; but school systems always want more money for more teachers, more buildings, more programs, etc.
“We have many capital needs,” Jenny Seals, superintendent of the St. Clair County School System, said. “We want to make sure that we have some new school in some growing areas. We have renovations in all of our communities. Every community that we have will be touched and benefited by this tax increase.”
“Not all of it is about capital improvements,” Seals said. “We also want to decreases the class sizes add back music and arts that we are missing, Increase our pre-K programs …those are very important. We are looking at this helping us with that and we want to fund some of our new programs that we want to incorporate…..also technology.”
The Superintendent of the Pell City Schools System Michael Barber said that people ask about, “What the money will be used for and in a broad way the answer is education. Education now looks so different than education did years ago. St. Clair County is one of the fastest growing counties. I met with the economic development council of St. Clair County just last week. With all the industry that is moving in. We want to add a vocational career center. We want to expand the certification offerings. What we are trying to do. Healthcare, the Veterans Home the hospital all the medical facilities that we have. We have added courses as far as nursing assistants and pharm-tech. Students are interested in those programs. We want to expand our pre-engineering and building sciences. That is why We need a new career tech center.”
Barber said that in both systems “Right now we are participating in the Craft Academy.” “We are sending kids to Birmingham and bringing them back. Nothing against the craft academy they do a wonderful job and those certifications are excellent, but we would like to do that here. Our curriculum is driven by needs.”
“We need a new junior high,” Barber said. “Right now We have a seventh grade stand-alone school. We have an eighth grade stand-alone school. I would lke to see a new Junior high school. When you have a child for a year it is hard to get to know that child. It is hard to get to know the parents. Our people do a wonderful job but I would love to see a new junior high school.”
Barber also said that he wanted to expand the pre-K program, offer more technology.
“We have a building built in 1948 and others that was built in 1954 you go by and see a roof going on and that is about $300,000 a section,” Barber said. “We would like to expand our transportation department. We have purchased some buses but we have some buses we like to swap out as well.”
Jenny Seals is an elected superintendent while Barber is hired by the Pell City School Board. Seals is not running for another term.
St. Clair County School System Board Attorney John Rhea said that there will be two measures on the ballot: first a proposed county wide 5 mill tax increase. There is also a 3 mill district tax on the ballot. It works a little bit different. There are separate school systems in St. Clair County: Trussville City Schools, Pell City Schools, Leeds City Schools, and everything else, which includes Ashville, Ragland, Steele, Margaret, Odenville, Moody, Argo, and most of the unincorporated rural area of the county. Each of the five districts must vote in favor of the district tax for it to pass.
An 8 mill increase means that every $100,000 home will pay an additional $80 in property taxes on top of what they already pay. A $200,000 home would pay $160 in additional taxes. The owner of a $300,000 home would pay an additional $240 a year in taxes. Many homeowners don’t notice their property tax bill because the mortgage company pays the taxes and then passes those costs on to them through the mortgage cost. Similarly renters pay the property taxes through higher rents.
Rhea said, “We do really well with what we have,” but insisted that the schools need more money. The current St. Clair County millage rate is 13.5 mills.
If both taxes pass the millage rate for schools would soar to 20.5 mills, a 59.3 percent increase over the current rate for schools. Currently the total mills, schools and everything else, is 31.5. If both tax increases pass it would soar to 39.5 mills. That is less than Jefferson and Shelby Counties.
The tax increase has been highly controversial. Yellow “Vote No” signs have sprung up in yards across the county as citizen opponents try to gear up to motivate voters to reject the property tax increase.
The polls will open at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 7:00 p.m.
You vote at the same polling place that you would for a presidential election. You can only vote at your assigned polling place. Alabama does not have any internet or virtual voting.
To vote in any Alabama election you must bring a valid photo-ID. The school tax vote is non-partisan so any registered voter may participate, even if they do not own property and thus do not pay property taxes directly.