On Jan. 30, the residents of St. Clair County will vote on whether to raise property taxes to provide additional funding for the county’s four school systems -- Pell City, Leeds, St. Clair County and Trussville.
The ballot will have two measures to be considered: a three-mill increase for each of the four systems individually; and a five-mill increase for the county overall, for a total of 8 mills.
A mill is one-tenth of 1 percent, which means, if your home is worth $100,000, the 8-mill increase would raise your annual property tax bill by $80.
For education, it would mean an additional $4.3 million annually to the St. Clair County School System; an additional $2 million annually to the Pell City School System; and an additional $200,000 annually for the Leeds City School System.
While current funding levels will keep schools open and the lights on, there’s not enough money available in any of the county’s school systems to upgrade facilities or make necessary improvements to equipment, materials and programs.
Some of the school buildings in Pell City, for example, are more than 50 years old.
In voting to allow the referendum, Commissioner Tommy Bowers emphasized the importance of having a good school system. “When you are recruiting an industry, they will research the school systems,” he said. “They want to make sure they are a fit for their employees.”
Every city works to have in place everything necessary to recruit industry, including property, infrastructure, a capable workforce, quality of life amenities and good schools. While St. Clair County’s economic development efforts are highly competitive, its financial support for its school systems is woefully outpaced by surrounding counties, where millage rates are sometimes double and even triple what’s collected in St. Clair County.
Plus, the impact a community’s educational support has on industrial recruitment efforts can’t be overstated.
“Any governing body that sets children as a priority is generally indicative of a place people want to be, a place people want to live and a place people want to send their children to school,” Leeds Schools Superintendent John Moore said in a story by The St. Clair Times’ Gary Hanner. “We have many needs at Leeds. We want to continue to grow our technology environment, which is ever-changing and very expensive. That’s what we have targeted for these funds if they come through.”
County Commissioner Tommy Bowers concurred.
“When you are recruiting an industry, they will research the school systems,” he said. “They want to make sure they are a fit for their employees.”
The usual knee-jerk reaction is to instinctively and reflexively resist and reject any effort to raise taxes, regardless of the amount or the reason. But this time should be different.
For the reasons already stated, not only is raising the millage rate logical, it’s imperative.
At a recent education forum, state Rep. Jim Hill challenged St. Clair County residents to take on the responsibility of supporting local students and giving them the type of financial support enjoyed by students in surrounding counties.
“If we want to improve the educational level of the children and the schools and the quality in this county, then it is imperative that we do so on a local level,” he said.
St. Clair County BOE member Angie Cobb said there’s no more to be squeezed from the funding the county currently gets.
“We have so little now to the point that we can’t do anymore,” she said. “We are spent; we are done. So, there will be huge drastic changes that will have to be made if this property tax for education does not pass.”
The vote is Tuesday, Jan. 30. Put your money where your mouth is. Vote yes.