North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

November 6, 2013

Breaking Away: JefCoEd opposes separation; others want city schools but no property tax

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — Another in our series of stories about the proposed separation of Gardendale schools into its own system, and the referendum for a property tax that would far for it. A story about supporters of the proposal and the tax appeared earlier Wednesday.

Opposition to the upcoming referendum on a hike in Gardendale property taxes to finance a breakaway city school system has taken two forms — one from those who oppose the breakaway system, and those who want a system but not paid for with a property tax.

Those opposing views are represented by two disparate groups: the leadership of the Jefferson County School System, which wants Gardendale to stay with it; and a small group fronted mainly by businessman Jerome Cantrell, who has paid for billboard and newspaper advertising primarily out of his own pocket.

JefCoEd Superintendent Dr. Stephen Nowlin has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the estimate of start-up costs for a new Gardendale system is greatly underestimated by city leaders and other separation supporters.

Nowlin and the board are presenting their arguments in written form in a letter addressed directly to Gardendale residents, and a check list of points to consider under the tagline, “We’re Better Together.” Both were mailed to Gardendale residents this week.

Among the points made in the mailer:

Cantrell, on the other hand, strongly favors the breakaway. Indeed, as an unsuccessful mayoral candidate in 2004 running against Kenny Clemons, Cantrell’s campaign advertising featured two main points: support for a separate system, and no property taxes. That remains the case today.

Cantrell owns the Mutual Finance chain of consumer-loan offices, as well as several franchises of the Badcock & More furniture store chain. Like Nowlin, he believes that the proposed property tax won’t bring in enough revenue, as well as being a burden on homeowners and businesses.

Instead, Cantrell proposes the extension of the 1-cent sales tax increase that is scheduled to “sunset” on Dec. 31, 2014. The increase was passed by the Gardendale City Council to pay off existing debt on local projects, as well as economic development.

“The Harvey report [the feasibility study commissioned by the city] said the property tax would bring in about $800,000, whereas sales tax is bringing in about $1.25 million,” Cantrell said. “We have so many older residents in Gardendale. Why should they pay for a city school system? With a sales tax, you have more of the people who are benefiting from the system paying their fair share.”

Cantrell has had a few people publicly support him, and claims that others have expressed private support but don’t want their names made public for fear of repercussions.