Cullman County neighbors divided on proposed sales tax increase to fund schools

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CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala (WIAT) — Neighbors in Cullman County will soon vote on a proposed one cent sales tax increase to fund school improvements.

The issue will be on the ballot Tuesday, March 3rd.

According to Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette, the tax increase could raise an additional $10 million annually that would go towards three projects.

Specifically, Barnette wants to address facility and classroom investments, job training, and school safety.

“We want to hire additional school resource officers .We want to upgrade our camera system,” said Barnette, who added double entry systems are also needed.

Leaders also want to fund new facilities for workforce training. Barnette pointed to thousands of new jobs coming to north and central Alabama as opportunities for students.

“We turn out about 750 graduates every year and we want to have them train to walk into a good career,” Barnette said.

Some facilities are also in need of repair, Barnette said.

“Some of our buildings, we need additional classrooms and we need to replace some classrooms. We need HVAC replaced in many of our schools. We have old boiler systems and radiator systems that are beginning to rust through and things like that,” Barnette said.

According to Barnette, a family that spends $1,200 per month on taxable items could expect to spend an additional $144 each year.

The idea of an additional tax does not sit well with some neighbors.

“I have 4 kids. We go to to the dollar store every other day. I mean, you’re adding 1 cent here, and people don’t think that is a lot of money, but that adds up,” said Wesley Freeman, who has children in West Point.

Freeman would like to see the district find money elsewhere if improvements are needed.

“I’ve been married now for 16 years and we have to make a budget in my house and when there is something extra that we don’t need that’s weighing us down, we have to cut it loose. You just have to, you just have to bite the bullet and have to do that and I think maybe they may have to do something like that,” said Freeman

According to Superintendent Barnette, audits have been done on the district and the proposed tax is a last resort.

“There’s no fluff in our budget,” said Barnette.

Some neighbors like Wendy Crider support the idea of a sales tax increase in hopes of bringing additional opportunities for teenagers.

“I see such awesome potential in our county schools, but none of these buildings were built to stay up for 100 years or more, and some of them are pushing that,” said Crider, who also is a former teacher and former school board member in the district.

Crider believes the tax increase would be a small price to pay in the long run. She hopes the city and county neighbors will come together to pass the increase.

“Children are our future and I feel like they are worth our investment by all means,” said Crider.

If voters approve the tax increase, Cullman City Schools would also get a percentage of the money based on student enrollment.

Barnette promised the district would generate a report that details where the tax money is used, if approved by voters. He said the funds can only be used for the three specific projects, facility and classroom improvement, job training, and school safety.

“At any given time if you are a parent of a kindergartner, or if you’re a 75 year old retiree, you can go to this website, you can come by the central office, you can see what money is being spent out of this account,” said Barnette.

Some neighbors in Cullman County have inquired about the district attempting to sell a property near Smith Lake. Barnette explained the difficulties of the idea.

“If we were to sell it right now, 90 percent of those funds have to go in a trust fund and you can do nothing but draw the interest off it every year, so the 10 percent you could use right now, would have to be divided between the city and county school system, and what we have been offered on the property right now, that 10 percent would leave us just under $300,000 after legal feels,” Barnette continued. “We’re looking for other solutions of how we could lease that property or do something where somebody could develop it for us and generate a long term revenue.”

The vote will be Tuesday, March 3rd.

Stay with CBS 42 for updates.


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