St. Clair County voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday not to increase its property taxes to support local schools.
That’s a shame.
The vote was on proposed property tax increases for public school systems, including Pell City Schools, St. Clair County Schools, Leeds City Schools and Trussville City Schools.
Had the increases passed, they would have meant an additional $4.3 million annually for St. Clair Schools and an additional $2 million annually for Pell City Schools.
Not only is it regrettable that St. Clair school systems will continue to lag behind other area counties in local funding, but of all east Alabama counties, this county has the fewest excuses for holding back financially when it comes to supporting education.
St. Clair County has been identified as one of the fastest-growing counties in the state; it is the second-least impoverished county in the state; its unemployment rate is consistently one of the lowest in the state; and it has the sixth-highest median household income in the state.
And yet, its residents voted down the first tax increase in decades for their own children by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.
The county’s only school district that did pass the measure was Leeds where 68 voted in favor of a 3-mill tax increase while 45 voted against it. The Leeds increase will go into effect in October.
To St. Clair County’s shame, residents in Munford, Lincoln and Winterboro all voted in recent years to increase their property taxes. All are smaller, poorer school districts than those of St. Clair, and yet they recognized the value of investing in their children’s future. Today Munford and Lincoln’s children enjoy new school buildings with modern technology, and construction of a new Winterboro school is in progress, all thanks to additional funding from those local tax increases.
But instead of coming late to the party, St. Clair voters decided Tuesday not to join the party at all.
Consequently, St. Clair students will be asked to continue competing against students near and far who have better amenities and newer facilities. It’s not a level playing field, and the question is how long will it be before it starts to make a difference in performance.
Another point of embarrassment regarding Tuesday’s vote was the abysmally low turnout. Of the county’s 58,000 registered voters, only 8,764, or 15 percent, bothered to go to the polls. By comparison, turnout in St. Clair County for the Roy Moore-Doug Jones Senate race two months ago was 38 percent. Where were the other 50,000 voters?
The last time county residents voted to raise their property taxes Eisenhower was president.
The risk of continuing to fund our local school systems at a 1960s level is that eventually we could begin to get 1960s results in the classroom.
You get what you pay for.