SPANISH FORT – The proposal for a vote on the three-mill property tax increase to help fund Spanish Fort schools will go to the Baldwin County Board of Education on June 6, following action by the City Council.
The council voted 5-0, with one abstention, to approve an agreement between the city and school board to hold a referendum on Sept. 17. Councilman Curt Smith, a school system employee, abstained from the vote.
The Sept. 17 referendum will be the same day as a public vote on a three-mill tax increase for Fairhope schools.
Mayor Mike McMillan said city officials had planned to ask that the Spanish Fort referendum be set for Sept. 10. Fairhope, however, was required to reschedule its referendum from Sept. 24 to Sept. 17 when its polling site was not available on Sept. 24. The mayor said Baldwin County Probate officials would not have time to certify votes at one site and then hold another referendum a week later. The alternative is to hold both votes on the same date.
“I don’t see any way around it if we want to have an election,” McMillan said.
The timing will mean that residents will be voting on a tax increase at about the same time that fuel taxes will be going up following passage of a new bill by the Alabama Legislature and many residents will see their property taxes increase due to assessments of increased home values, Councilwoman Mary Brabner said.
“There are some things I think we need to take into consideration before this even takes effect,” Brabner said. “We’ve had a gas tax added onto people’s lives. It’s bad timing all the way around.”
She said the timing will require that supporters make a strong effort push the project if they want to referendum to pass.
“We made an assumption based on previous referendums that’s it’s going to pass here,” she said. “Now that we’ve got these two additional taxes on people and we’re going to add a third and there’s a lot of concern.”
McMillan said city officials have worked to make the public aware of the project.
“I do think that we’ve done a very good job of public input with four public hearings,” McMillan said. “We’ve never had anything with four public hearings, except may the town center or one of those things in the early years so I think we’ve done our part. It’s been talked about for over a year. It’s not like this is a surprise to anybody in our city that we’re going to move forward with this.”
He said new taxes are always a concern for citizens no matter when the increase is proposed.
“It wouldn’t matter if we didn’t have any gasoline taxes or anything else. Anytime you have a new tax, you’ve got to be concerned,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for residents and community to decide if they want help support schools or not.”
The tax would increase the ad valorem rate on $100,000 worth of property by $30. Under an amendment to the Alabama Constitution, communities can establish local tax districts to pass taxes to support schools in that area.
Spanish Fort has proposed a three-mill increase for 10 years. The Fairhope proposal would set a three-mill increase for 30 years.