Spanish Fort continues moving forward with special tax district for education


After a special called meeting with Baldwin County schools officials on March 11, the Spanish Fort City Council further clarified the details about the potential three mill special tax district for education the city is looking at putting up for a vote.

One point the council took issue with involving the proposed language for the special tax district was the length of the term for the tax.

“I have a problem with it being 30 years right out of the gate,” Councilman J.R. Smith said. “I’d think many of us would like to see a shorter term with some sort of a review process built in to it.”

Councilman Bill Menas agreed.

“Even 10 years is a long time to go without some sort of review or oversight to it,” Menas said.

After settling on a 10-year term for the proposed tax, the council all agreed they wanted the money raised by the millage increase to be used for enhancement programs and academics, but not athletic funding. The potential millage money would also not be used for present employee salaries or general construction that the school system currently does.

City Attorney David Conner cautioned city leaders about making the fund uses too restrictive for the committee that would be appointed to help guide where the money being raised should be spent.

“Whatever goes on the ballot, I don’t think we need to overly restrict and bind the hands of the committee that is going to help decide where these funds need to go,” Conner said. “We should want to give as much discretion as we can, but also have at least some sense of direction for that committee.”

City leaders proposed a Sept. 10 date for the potential election, which has also been proposed by the City of Fairhope for its own special tax district election. Mayor Mike McMillan said Spanish Fort would move forward regardless of what Fairhope or other cities might do.

“I’m not overly concerned about what other cities are doing,” McMillan said. “If we are going to get this implemented, it needs to be a September referendum. We run our own race. They can do what they want.”

J.R. Smith was adamant there needed to be clearer language in the proposed agreement that the appointed commission’s role in helping decide how the money is spent should be strengthened and clarified.

The proposed commission would have four members appointed by the principal of each of the feeder pattern schools (who is not a BCBE employee), one city council member, one member appointed by the Baldwin County Commissioner for the area and three appointed by the city council. Commission terms with last three years with a two-term maximum for members.

School officials present told Spanish Fort city leaders that while the system was supportive of what the city may try to do with the tax district, they wanted to make clear this was completely a city-backed initiative.

“My main concern is that this is a city-driven initiative,” Baldwin County Board of Education member Shannon Cauley said. “It’s got to be the city that wants to do this for their schools. The school system and the school board has just provided the vehicle for cities to go through to do this.”

The next step for the city would be to pass the resolution in support of the election for the special tax district and then collect the necessary signatures from residents to petition the BCBE for the election.

Before the petition process can occur, however, the school system will have to set the final boundaries for the Spanish Fort feeder pattern - a process that will likely not be finished until May at the earliest.

“You have to have the district boundary finished or the petition could be suspect,” Conner said. “You can’t change the boundaries after the petition is signed and submitted because you could invalidate the petition.”

McMillan said the city would have another public hearing on the issue at its first meeting in April and could take a vote on moving forward some time after that.