By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
A roar erupted from the crowd and people jumped into the air when the election manager announced the results of Tuesday’s property tax referendum in Gardendale.
Residents approved an additional 5-mill property, or ad valorem, tax by almost 58 percent.
There was no shortage of tears, handshakes and hugs, as election manager Keith Mosley had to wait a few minutes for the noise to die down so he could announce the details: A total of 3,528 people cast votes, with 2,035 supporting the tax and 1,493 opposing it.
There were also four provisional votes cast, but whether the board of registrars decides they are eligible to be counted is a moot point; it will not change the outcome.
Most people are not so excited about more taxes, but the crowd was behind the purpose of the tax hike: Funding a Gardendale city school system. City leaders and others want to separate four schools — Gardendale High, Bragg Middle, Gardendale Elementary and Snow Rogers Elementary — from the Jefferson County School System.
The city commissioned studies to determine the financial feasibility, and experts said it is indeed feasible. However, they recommended an additional source of revenue — namely, 10 mills of property tax — to give a school system more of a financial cushion.
The Gardendale City Council raised property taxes by 5 mills in September to support the proposed school system. By law, 5 mills is the most the council could raise taxes. Thus, voters were asked to approve the additional 5 mills.
“This is a defining moment for the city of Gardendale,” said Chris Lucas, one of the founders of FOCUS Gardendale, the group that is the driving force behind Gardendale forming its own school system. “This sets the stage for the future of the city.”
Gardendale City Council President Stan Hogeland likened the process to a football game.
“The last two weeks was like the fourth quarter,” he said. “We were down, but we united and won the fourth quarter. We’re very appreciative of our citizens and of everybody who got behind this.”
Another citizen, Jerome Cantrell, strongly supports the city school system, but he opposed increasing property tax in order to help fund it.
“As you would expect, I am extremely disappointed about the additional ad valorem taxes being approved,” Cantrell said. “Statistically, it is an uphill battle to defeat this type of tax referendum, especially with the money, man-hours and marketing effort expended. However, the goal from the beginning was to ensure that the Gardendale residents knew that the referendum was in regards to increasing property taxes; regardless of personal expenses incurred. This goal was accomplished.”
Cantrell said he looking forward to the Gardendale city school system forming, which he has publicly supported since his campaign for mayor in 2004. He is also looking forward to the forthcoming economic benefits promised throughout this process.”
Gardendale residents who are not exempt will now pay a total of 60.1 mills of property tax. Of that amount, 30.1 mills currently goes to the Jefferson County School System, 20 mills goes to the Jefferson County government and 10 mills goes to the city of Gardendale for the city school system.
The 30.1 mills designated for the Jefferson County school system would revert to the Gardendale school system.
The 5 mills of property tax that the Gardendale City Council levied in September will come due on the October 2014 tax bill.
The 5 mills that voters approved on Tuesday will come due in October 2015.
The Jefferson County School System is on record as opposing the separation of Gardendale schools; the city will still have to negotiate with the county about the separation.