GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – A countywide 1-cent sales tax increase for school funding was proposed to the Marshall County commission on Wednesday morning, but after much discussion, it was ultimately killed and pushed back for another day .
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Cindy Wigley urged commissioners to act on Wednesday and approve a 1-cent sales tax increase as the county’s school district desperately needed better financial support .
“The low population threshold set by the state of Alabama has allowed for the creation of five separate school systems in our rural county,” Wigley said during the working session. “Municipal school systems have their municipal councils to turn to for help; and as superintendent, I am fortunate to have each of you on this commission. Although the state created this problem decades ago, and none of us had a hand in making it, the only opportunity the legislature has given us, as residents, is to have a shared sales tax through a county commission vote.
Although schools in the county need the funds the most, Wigley said the tax she proposed would benefit all schools in Marshall County.
If the commissioners chose to impose the tax increase, all school systems would receive a share of the revenue based on average daily attendance. This would roughly equate to Marshall County schools receiving one-third of the revenue, Albertville city schools one-third, and the remaining districts (Arab, Boaz, and Guntersville) sharing the remaining one-third.
Based on current tax revenue projections, the 1-cent increase could yield an additional $15 million per year.
“Marshall County is Alabama’s state anomaly,” Wigley said. “We are the only county in Alabama where all major municipalities have municipal schools and there is no shared sales tax to divide between each school system. For years, this has been a topic of discussion. The legislator had the foresight to see in it the means of a fair tax. Failure to seize this opportunity has had an unfair impact on all students in the Marshall County school system for decades. Since that time, cities have adopted sales taxes for their students and have debt services for their municipalities and schools. Much of the sales tax revenue generated in cities that support municipal school systems comes from county school parents who have no choice but to shop in incorporated areas of Marshall County. This is obviously a situation that is neither fair nor just to county school students. We have four school districts within the Marshall County Schools system: Brindlee Mountain, DAR, Douglas and Asbury. As we know, as cities annex more and more businesses, the tax base of the county and the county school system continues to erode. This leaves us with little choice but to pursue the path offered to us by the legislature.
The primary reason for proposing the sales tax increase was to help Marshall County schools modernize their facilities and better serve their growing student population.
“Our revenues just aren’t enough to keep up with our growing student population and aging buildings,” Wigley said. “Our district still teaches in classrooms built in the 1920s. We have buildings and several mobile classrooms that have deteriorated beyond economic repair. It was only through our federal COVID-Relief funding allocation that our district was able to provide space for our students by purchasing 34 additional portable classrooms. This is the best temporary solution until the system has reliable and secure funding to build permanent classrooms. Students in our county schools deserve a permanent solution to the problem and brick-and-mortar classrooms like you would find in other parts of the county. We recognize that our share of this sales tax does not bring us into compliance with city systems, but it is the only hope we have to begin meeting our capital needs.
According to a 2017 analysis by the BOE of Marshall County, schools in Marshall County received only $226.06 per student through sales tax revenue. In comparison, Guntersville received approximately $1,456.87 per student, Arab received $1,047.01 per student, Boaz received $895.65 per student, and Albertville received approximately $744.20 per student.
County Attorney Clint Maze reminded residents that when someone buys something in an unincorporated county area, they pay 5 cents on the dollar for total taxes. While in Albertville, Arab, Boaz and Guntersville, it is 9 cents.
“And those local councils have levied taxes for the benefit of the school systems there, so that’s what makes up the 4% difference,” he said. “So this proposed increase would bring the unincorporated area sales tax to 6% and municipalities to 10%.”
Wigley’s proposal has drawn widespread criticism and concern, particularly due to its timeliness and an apparent lack of notification.
Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar, who was in attendance, said she was unaware the topic was under discussion and there could be potential action until 8 a.m. Wednesday, two hours before the regular committee meeting time.
” I spoke with [the mayors of Albertville, Arab and Boaz] this morning,” Dollar said. “I can’t say we’re here for or against it. We don’t have enough information… We would like more information. I feel like we are working very hard to have a great relationship between all of us to make Marshall County better, and for this to fall on us…I think we need more time and more information to say that we are for or against. I would like to know that we can sit at a table and work together and see, have we explored all the options? »
Given the state of the economy, a county resident told commissioners he thought the tax hike would be too big.
“I understand the need,” he said. “But in today’s inflationary state that has been politically motivated for us, our electricity bills, water bills, food bills, gas prices keep going up, but wages and salaries don’t. This increase in taxation does not help us.”
Another resident said she was in favor of the tax.
“I support doing this. [Marshall County Schools] badly needs it,” she said. “I think it will do a wonderful job for our county kids.”
Resident Larry Bodine said he doesn’t support the tax, but wants the county to get more funding. One way to boost revenue for county schools, Bodine said, would be to get Marshall County to “get wet” and allow alcohol sales — something he has pushed for before.
“About three years ago I went out and tried to get a petition to put the wet-dry issue [on the ballot,] because the cities are wet and we don’t get any money,” Bodine said. “I didn’t get any support from anyone. I got 3,000 signatures and I needed 6,000. But I’m going to do it again. I don’t drink, I just do it for the money taxes.
“But I am against this 1 cent increase in sales tax,” he continued. “We live in this county, we support these cities. Cities should never have been able to access a municipal school system unless they had a population of 50,000 or more. These municipal school systems are draining the county and we have people who can no longer afford to pay sales tax.
Wigley vocally supported Bodine’s efforts to push the county to allow liquor sales.
“I think with all these wet municipalities, it doesn’t make sense for the county to continue to be dry,” she said. “It just continues to separate equity, so I certainly agree with you. I support it – I will sign your petition.
Another resident asked why the proposed sales tax increase couldn’t be put on the ballot.
“You could actually put it before a vote,” Maze said, “but it would have to be a countywide vote and, at that point, a special election.”
Maze then pointed out that not all municipal sales tax increases are passed in the form of elections. On the contrary, they are adopted by the vote of the municipal council. So the same could be done in this case by the commission without any problem.
“We can’t put this to a vote of the people of Marshall County because we have four cities that are going to fight us,” Wigley said. “Because you [city councils] can come in any day and pass whatever you need for your district, and we don’t have the power to do that. And that’s why we’re here.
Marshall County BOE member Brian Naugher said another major reason the sales tax was needed was student safety.
“Last year a tornado ripped through Brindlee Mountain,” he said. “Does everyone remember what happened in the Enterprise about 20 years ago?” Let’s ask ourselves this: when a tornado hits and rips through a laptop full of kids, what are you going to wonder then? We didn’t want to pass a 1 cent sales tax to set up bricks and mortar to protect our children. The nearest shelter is over 10 miles away. The other parts of the classrooms that are designated as storm shelters—they’re full. So, you have to look at it from the security angle.
“Mayors and city councils pass on taxes as needed,” Naugher added. “It’s time to stop kicking that box on the road. The legal authority lies with you gentlemen out there [pointing to the commissioners] to fund the needs of the county school system. Period. We need it. … It’s time to act. Our children deserve it. We must provide the bricks and mortar for our teachers to educate the leaders of tomorrow…
“Do I want another sales tax? No, I don’t,” he said. “But, maybe cities can look at the lag. They’re going to make money out of it, so repeal a tax that now goes to cities and funds those schools. There is an option – remove a tax.
After the discussion was over and the commission entered its formal meeting, District 2 Commissioner Rick Watson moved two separate motions to approve a resolution and an order to impose the proposed sales tax; however, both motions died for lack of a second.
District 3 Commissioner Lee Sims then moved that the items be placed on the Oct. 26 agenda for further discussion and potential action. After a second, the motion carried 3-2. Watson and District 1 Commissioner Ronny Shumate objected. President James Hutcheson broke the tie.