ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Voters in St. Clair County will have to decide whether to increase ad valorem taxes in order to pay for school upgrades in several cities.
The vote would raise the property tax based on the value determined by a tax assessor. It can apply to homes, cars, and boats.
A county-wide measure failed several years ago, but voters later paved the way for local elections in 5 attendance zones: Springville, Ashville, Ragland, Odenville, and Moody.
“There was a lot of blaming going on. ‘If it wasn’t for them, we would have passed it’, or what have you, and so this amendment, it kind of eliminates that and allows each community to to decide its own fate,” said Mike Howard, Superintendent for the St. Clair County Board of Education.
To ensure the money stays within the boundaries of the voting districts, Howard said all funds generated from the tax would be placed into a separate capital projects account. A person would be appointed to attend each month’s board meeting to hear budget presentations.
Money can be used for capital improvements, such as new school buildings, athletic and performing arts facilities and security upgrades.
All in all, Howard said there about $200 million worth of projects that have been identified in the growing district.
He said the county system ranks at the bottom of spending per student every year and has one of the lowest property tax rates.
“If we were to save every bit of money that we have left at the end of the year it would take us about 150 years to save enough money for those $200 million projects and so we need the help of the communities if we want to build new schools to expand because of our student enrollment exploding like it is,” said Howard.
Each attendance zone has a list of projects and increases. Howard said residential homes are assessed based on fair market value.
According to the SCCBOE, commercial and farm properties aren’t exempt from the tax and not assessed at the same rate as residential properties, but instead are assessed at current use tax.
The growing communities of Moody and Springville are asking for the largest increases.
“On a $100,000 home, a 15 mil increase, that’s the highest two in our system, would be $150 additional taxes per year,” said Howard.
Moody High School Principal Chris Walters said money would help with overcrowding.
“There’s a lot of growth in the city, which means there is a lot of growth in our schools and so we are starting to hit the point where we are at capacity at a couple of our buildings,” said Walters.
The current high school shares a cafeteria with the junior high school. About 1,200 to 1,500 students pass through each day. If voters agree on the tax increase, leaders in Moody plan to build a new high school.
“It allows the Moody Junior High to come into this building and become a 6-8 and so that creates space that we’ve needed because of overcrowding,” said Walters.
Capital improvements would be made at each school in Moody. Additional plans called for a performing arts center, an athletic field with turf, a gymnasium, and a cafeteria.
“We’ve done a good job with what little we do have but certainly with the growth in the city, Moody is now the biggest city in St. Clair County, according to the last census. The growth is coming and we’re not going to be able to accommodate with all of the classrooms. All of our classrooms are already full,” said Walters.
People who live in Springville are being asked to consider a 15 mil increase, like Moody.
With more new homes being built in the area, high school principal Dr. Gregory Moore needs another school building.
“We don’t have 4 schools, so getting an additional school will help us be able to space students out a little bit more. Right now we only have the elementary school, the middle school and the high school. We don’t have an intermediate school,” said Moore.
The Springville plan calls for a new middle school and renovating the current building into an intermediate school.
A multipurpose gym, turf football field, and performing arts center are also being proposed.
“That performing arts center will allow us to have an opportunity to host events in the city of Springville. At this point in time, we only have an auditorium that only seats close to barely 400 people,” said Moore.
According to Howard, Odenville is considering a 12 mil increase, that would raise yearly property taxes about $120 on a $100,000 home.
At Odenville Elementary, leaders are proposing updated playground equipment, a modernized PA and emergency notification system, a STEM classroom upgrade, and HVAC upgrades.
With an additional 10-20 students expected at Odenville Intermediate School, plans call for a new lunchroom. Currently, the elementary, intermediate, and middle schools share a cafeteria.
The principal at Odenville Middle School lists exterior building upgrades, parking lot improvements, and roof repairs as needs that could be covered by increased taxes.
St. Clair County High school plans to use tax money for an on-campus football field and facility. A multipurpose building for boys and girls athletics, baseball facilities, second gym, and parking lot paving were among other goals listed.
Ragland and Ashville
In Ragland and Ashville, Howard said neighbors are being asked to consider a 5 mil increase.
“At 5 mils a $100,000 home would be $50 per year,” said Howard.
In Ragland, plans call for the money to be spent on a new gymnasium. There were no other plans listed for the school.
Ashville school leaders are advertising a new ‘Ashville schools complex’ with additions like a 600-seat competition gymnasium, concession stand and eating area, locker rooms, and extended parking.
In Margaret, there is an elementary school with approximately 680 students. It feeds into Springville and Odenville schools.
A proposal calls for an additional wing to be built at the elementary school. Currently, there are no vacant classrooms, according to information published by school leaders.
In order for the wing to be built, the vote to pass in both Springville and Odenville.
People who live in Pell City will also vote to consider an ad valorem tax increase, but that money will stay within the Pell City School District and had no impact on St. Clair County Schools, Howard said.
Voting takes place Tuesday November, 16th at the same polling locations neighbors used for the 2020 presidential election.
For a list of all of the plans proposed at each school in St. Clair County, click here.
Some neighbors disagree with an increase
Some residents told CBS 42 that it was not the right time to ask for more money.
“Inflation is out of control, that is for sure. It would be hard for anybody to pay extra anything these days,” said Freddy Stanford, who lives in Springville.
Stanford no longer has children in the school system. He would like to see leaders scale back on the wish list during difficult times.
“I think there should be a little less ambitious with their goals right now, especially with the way things are the way people are struggling. Think about the little man,” said Stanford.
Stanford questioned whether some items were ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’ for the district, such as improvements to athletic fields.
Other neighbors had concerns about the impact of the tax increase on car tags, boat tags, and other properties like farm buildings or commercial structures.
On social media, some residents expressed concerns that money could be used for other purposes.
Howard said school leaders had no plans to deviate from the projects advertised in the community and that board members would be evaluated on promises by voters during elections.