Both the Madison City Council and the City of Triana have signed off on a 12-mill proposed property tax increase to support Madison schools. If successful, the additional revenue will help Madison City Schools build new schools, expand the city’s two high schools and provide a boost to the school district’s operating budget.
Last Tuesday, the Madison City Council passed a resolution supporting the ad valorem tax increase, setting the stage to ask the legislature to place the issue on next year’s election ballot for voters to decide.
The school district says it needs $34 million for a new elementary school, $49 million for a new middle school, $18-20 million for high school additions and $3.5 million for additional operational support.
A 12-mil property tax would add $120 annually in property taxes per $100,000 value of home, or $10 per month. The Madison millage increase would apply to all of the Madison city limits in both Limestone and Madison counties and used exclusively for Madison City Schools.
An identical 12-mil increase from Triana was passed Monday night. Now a resolution will be sent to the state legislature asking them to approve placing the referendum on the ballot next fall. Voters in Madison and Triana will then have a chance to vote for or against the property tax increase.
At last Tuesday’s meeting and public hearing in Madison, several citizens spoke in favor of the increase — some even saying they think 12 mills is not enough. In fact, not one person spoke up against the proposed increase.
“We just want other Madison parents who want the same thing for their kids to do the same,” one man said of his support for the increase.
“I know teachers are frustrated, students are frustrated. We have tutors in the closet. We have special ed teachers teaching out of closets,” one woman said. “We are all feeling the constraints of the sizes. My fourth grade daughter has 27 students in her class right now. Teachers cannot be successful as they’d like to be, students cannot be successful.”
According to the schools district’s website, the growth rate the district has been experiencing is unsustainable. “We are reaching a critical point in capacity. Just from the end of the school year in May to the beginning of October, the district has grown almost 430 students. That’s the enrollment at West Madison Elementary alone. Packing more students on existing campuses is not feasible because it would overtax lunchrooms, gyms, hallways and other school operations. Approximately 200 kids had to be turned away from PreK this year for lack of space.”
With such a necessary need for more space and seemingly good support at this stage in the process, it would appear that few snags, if any, will keep this issue from being placed before voters in 2019. However, snags can happen.
In 2012, a similar attempt to raise property taxes in Madison failed as it tried to come up for a vote at the legislature due to issues concerning Triana. The increase would have been used to help build James Clemens. Instead, a sales tax increase was eventually approved by the city council to pay back a construction bond.
In Alabama, before a local tax increase proposal can be placed on a ballot, a bill approving it must be passed by the state legislature. In this case, the bill the legislature approved was not entirely the same bill the city council had voted to send to Montgomery. Legislators added two amendments to the bill, that city and school officials are saying essentially made the approved referendum unable to be placed on the ballot.
“There were two primary changes. First, the bill wasn’t advertised as it should have been,” then city councilmen Tim Holcombe said at the time. “Second, the language that was added to the bill was concerning Triana.”
Even though Triana is not within the Madison city limits, students from there are allowed to attend Madison city schools. If Madison raises taxes to support education, Triana is required to do the same.
“The amendment to the bill allowed Triana voters two years to enact a similar property tax for education after one is passed in Madison. However, a consent decree from the Department of Justice when we formed our own school district in 1998 mandated a one year term after we raise our property tax,” Holcombe said. “The legislature had absolutely no authority to change the consent decree that everyone had agreed to years ago. Why they did that, I may never know,.”
The amended bill was said to be unconstitutional leaving Madison leaders little choice but to abandon it and not place it on the ballot.
City leaders are not expecting the same problems this time around. Confidence is high that the issue will placed before voters next fall. The main thrust after Triana approves a resolution in support of the proposed tax increase and if the legislature approves placing it on the ballot, would be convincing residents this tax increase is a vital step towards insuring Madison schools can continue to offer top quality education amidst rising population numbers.
“Now the work begins in sharing the information about the positive impact this will have on our schools when this passes,” said Councilwoman Maura O’Dea Wroblewski after last Tuesday’s vote.