PELL CITY -- On Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, registered voters of St. Clair County will have the opportunity to invest in the county’s most important asset, its children. Not since 1960 have St. Clair County residents increased property taxes for the purpose of funding the educational needs of its children. As a lifelong resident of St. Clair County, I can tell you much has changed about our county since 1960. Many families have discovered the genuine goodness of our county and its people, and now it is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Business and industry leaders also continue to locate in our county providing employment opportunities to our residents. As a school leader, I am responsible to help prepare the next generation of St. Clair County residents to lead this great county, and the expense to educate that generation has increased since 1960.
Currently, the property tax rate for St. Clair County is 13.5 mills. The current property tax rate is lower than all our neighbors and lower than most in the state of Alabama. The current rate also places the investment in our children’s education far behind all of our neighbors. As a local school leader, I am often asked how our school system measures up to other school systems in the state of Alabama. In the area of per pupil funding, the Pell City School System ranks 118th out of the state’s 137 school systems. And the St. Clair County School System ranks even lower at 130th.
I am not trying to make anyone feel bad about what they pay in taxes. That has never been my goal. I am writing today to apologize for not attempting to provide better funding for past generations of St. Clair County children. I am bothered by how many past generations of students could have benefited from the educational offerings both school systems could have provided with additional funding. Programs such as health science, building science, engineering, music, art, and Pre-kindergarten might have set many of our former students on a career pathway.
Registered voters of our county have the opportunity to invest in future generations on Tuesday. Voting to increase our property tax by 8 mills will still have our county taxed well below almost all of our neighbors. That sounds good until you remember our children will compete with our neighbors’ children for jobs not only in our county but in our state, nation and around the world. We have the opportunity to level the field of competition for our children by investing in their education Tuesday. Each additional dollar will go to education, be spent on our children, and will follow each child to the school system to which they attend.
I was asked to limit my comments to 500 words for this letter to my fellow St. Clair County residents. The truth is I could write a book about how investing in education raises the value of property and enhances the quality of life for residents.
For many people in our county, the increased tax cost will be an additional $1.54 per week or less. That amount is the proposed cost increase on a property that is appraised at $100,000. I hope you will consider investing in the future of all St. Clair County children by voting in support of the millage increase on Tuesday.
Your voting site is the same location you voted for president. I plan to be the first in line on Tuesday.
Dr. Michael Barber is the superintendent of the Pell City School System.