By Melanie Patterson and Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — The Gardendale City Council has started the official process Tuesday night of separating the city from the Jefferson County School System, but is having to take a slightly different path to do so that members first thought.
The process of enacting a 10-mill property tax will have to be done on two steps — the first by the council itself to install a 5-mill tax, and the second by Gardendale voters to raise the tax to 10 mills.
Mayor Othell Phillips said in a prepared statement that these two steps were required by the Alabama Constitution, according to City Attorney Ken Thompson and the Alabama League of Municipalities. Gardendale currently has no property tax of its own, and Phillips and the city council had planned to put the entire 10-mill tax before voters in a referendum before learning that is not allowed.
Instead, state law forces the council to enact five mills, which is the maximum tax that a council can approve without a referendum. After that is approved, the city is then allowed to set a referendum on stepping up to 10 mills.
The council heard the first reading of the ordinance to enact the initial tax in their meeting Tuesday. They will vote on the first step in their next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 16. They will also vote to hold the referendum on Nov. 12, with public hearings to be held beforehand.
Taxable property includes real estate plus vehicles — “automobiles, or any vehicle required to have license plates,” Thompson said.
Phillips’ statement said that the average house in Gardendale is valued at about $144,000, and a 10-mill tax would work out to about $144.00 per year, or 39 cents a day “to help improve education and sustain our community for years to come. I think that is a worthy investment.”
If enacted, the initial 5-mill levy would take effect in October 2014, and the second tax would start a year later.