'Vital' education funding up for vote in Dec. 12 special election

'Vital' education funding up for vote in Dec. 12 special election
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)
(Source: WAFF)

MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - As Alabama voters get ready to head to the polls to choose their next senator in a highly-anticipated December special election, those in Madison County will notice another important section on the ballot.  It's a vote to renew property taxes, and officials say there's a lot riding on keeping them in place because they fund education.

The property taxes benefit Madison County's three public school systems. And officials say the funding is critical to keep things running on many different levels in local schools.

The Senate race is the only general statewide race in the special election on December 12th, but in Madison County, the education tax initiatives are up for renewal.

Funding for local schools comes from property taxes and the state matching those dollars. The funding streams must be renewed every 30 years. It is not a new tax or a tax increase, and it is not a general fund tax.

The renewals are solely for school funding. The money is earmarked for education and distributed among the three local school systems: Huntsville, Madison and Madison County.

Officials are working to create public awareness of how much the schools rely on money they receive annually through ad valorem taxes in the hopes that residents vote for the renewals Dec. 12.

Huntsville City Schools receives $37,650,000 each year through ad valorem taxes while Madison County receives about $14.3 million and Madison City Schools gets $6.5 million.

Woody Sanderson, an attorney with Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne P.C., was asked by all three school district to assist with the legal requirements of getting the tax renewal elections on the ballot for December. He stressed that it's a continuation of a long-standing tax for schools.

"It's not an increase in tax. It will be exactly the same tax everyone has been paying since 1991," he said. "The total amount at stake currently received by the three school systems that would be lost if these taxes were to fail is $58 million. That's a huge portion of local funding that goes into the three school systems. There's just no way they can function anywhere close to current levels with the loss of that much revenue."

Dr. Matt Akin, superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, has been taking part in public meetings about the tax renewals to make sure that voters know how important they are for learning.

"The main thing that we want people to know about the ad valorem tax is that it's not a new tax. It's simply renewing the taxes that have supported the school system in the past so it's not a new tax. It's $37 million that's vital to running our school system on a daily basis," Akin said. "That $37 million goes towards funding a lot of teachers and technology in the classroom. It's a big percentage, over 10 percent of our budget, so it goes to funding a lot of things. We couldn't survive without it."

Sanderson said the school systems are strong, but they already deal with tight budgets. They routinely produce national merit semifinalists and presidential scholars.

"Everybody understands that if you want to have a good quality school system, as we have three good quality school systems in this county, it takes money to run the school system. They are not funded at particularly high levels but they perform well statistically compared to other school systems in the state," he said.

The election will cost the Madison County Commission $35,000 because they decided to tag along with the Dec. 12 special election and ballots are already being printed and poll workers scheduled, etc. If it was held as a separate special election on another date, it would cost the county $500,000.

The current ad valorem taxes remain on the books through 2020. If the renewals are approved by voters, that window will extend until 2047.

"This isn't any kind of an increase in tax. This is simply just continuing to pay the taxes that are already in place that are vital to the success of these three school systems," Sanderson said.

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