North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 23, 2013

Group lays out plan for Gardendale schools to split from county

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — A group advocating the establishment of a separate Gardendale school system attracted about 80 residents at a public meeting Monday night.

FOCUS Gardendale — the acronym stands for Future of Our Community Utilizing Schools — showed a presentation of what steps would need to be taken for the city to split from the Jefferson County Schools.

Attendees included residents of Gardendale proper, as well as those outside the city limits whose children feed into Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools. The latter group includes Mt. Olive, whose elementary school is part of that feeder system.

To be a part of a new system, Mt. Olive would have to be annexed into the city — a sticking point with many longtime residents. If they did not annex, students from Mt. Olive Elementary would instead be routed to the Corner or Mortimer Jordan feeder systems.

But annexation was a major issue for those at the meeting, particularly whether they would lose the ability to hunt or discharge firearms (currently prohibited by Gardendale ordinances), and also how lands dedicated to mining would be handled.

Gardendale resident David Salters is leading the FOCUS group, along with Chris Lucas, who lives in Mt. Olive. They addressed a wide range of concerns in a free-wheeling discussion with audience members.

Salters compared the path that Gardendale is on currently with that of neighboring Center Point, two towns that share a common bond — neither levies property taxes, the only two cities of their size in Alabama that don’t.

“It likely will not turn out well for Gardendale if we don’t do this,” Salters told the group. “We don’t want to become what [Center Point] has.”

A local system would require a property tax to be charged, with supporters using a 10-mill tax as an example. For an average home value of $160,000, that would mean an annual tax of $160.

The city council funded a study by Birmingham consultant Dr. Ira Harvey, with the results to be presented at a special meeting on May 14 at the Civic Center’s exhibition hall.

It’s not the first time that Gardendale has considered a split from the county system. A similar committee was formed in 2005 and conducted its own study, though not by a professional such as Harvey, according to Mt. Olive resident Ronnie Guin, a member of that original committee.

“We [the committee members] broke that original study up and took different parts of it, but some of the same findings we had then I’m seeing in this, like the 10-mill property tax,” Guin said.

City Council President Stan Hogeland came late to the meeting, but the air of the gathering hit him before he reached the door.

“I could hear the buzz before I got to the [civic center] control desk,” Hogeland said. “That’s the way it’s going to be from here on out.”

Salters said the group would meet again shortly after the Harvey study is released.