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Terry Odum shares his thoughts on the proposed property tax increase at a public hearing Nov. 13 at the Madison City Council meeting. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Madison City Council approves school board’s property tax proposal, residents voice strong support

MADISON — Several citizens voiced their thoughts on the newly proposed property tax increase during Madison City Council’s packed meeting Nov. 13.

The property, or “ad valorem,” tax increase of 12 mils would aim to help support the growth of Madison City Schools over the next several years.

A total of 16 people expressed their full support of Madison City Schools and an increase in property taxes to support the school system, though many wondered if an increase of 12 mils would be enough.

“If we genuinely believe that our children and schools are the foundation of the future of Madison, then we need to match our words with responsible action,” said Madison resident Mike Sheehy. “Twelve mils is not responsible. A 20-22 mil equivalency would buy a high school and is the only realistic solution.”

He also called on city and school leaders to work to find additional sources of funding to address all school needs so that the same problem does not resurface in just a few short years.

“We need a real funding solution, and we need it yesterday,” he said.

Scott Edwards echoed Sheehy’s sentiments.

“We may need to look at additional millage to be able to take care of the long-term growth of the city because I would rather us not have to come back to the well in three or four years and say ‘O.K., we need another eight mils or need another 10 mils,’” Edwards said. “Let’s go ahead and do it one time, and that way we get it all planned … and we reel that growth in, and we’re able to continue building the facilities that we need to handle the schools.”

Edwards said he has “full confidence” in the board and what they have done up to this point with the “less than average” Alabama funding provided.

Terry Odum recognized the school system’s part in his children’s success and also said he is willing to invest in the school system through a tax increase.

“I consider it investment, and I’m willing to sacrifice an additional tax burden so that other families can receive that same investment opportunity,” he said.

Others at the meeting said they trusted that the school board’s plan was sound.

“Eleven mills (passed in 1993) got us to where we are, and folks on the school board, Mr. Parker—they’ve done their math,” said Donnie Spencer. “… I feel like if 11 mils got us through 20 years of building the school system to where we are now, coming from nothing versus going through a proven successful school system 20 years later, then 12 mils is not very much to ask.”

Toni Apse, president of Mill Creek Elementary’s PTA, said her fourth-grade daughter has 27 other students in her classroom. Because of crowded class sizes like her daughter’s, Apse recognized an urgency to pass the tax increase to allow Madison City Schools to develop some breathing room.

“I know teachers are frustrated, students are frustrated, we have tutors in the closets, we have our special ed teachers teaching out of closets … We’re feeling the constraints of the sizes,” she said. “… Being in the school volunteering all of my time, I want success for everybody in that school from janitorial staff all the way up through administration, and the way to do this, I believe, is to agree with this referendum and allow Mr. Parker and the school board to improve the school system.”

District 3 Councilman Teddy Powell expressed later in the meeting that it is important for the tax to pass as soon as possible because “we have no other funding.” He recognized that while it does not seem ideal to have to raise the taxes again a few years later if needed, it would be a “risky venture” to raise it too much now and have it voted down.

“I understand the need to want more … the issue is the risk,” he said. “… This has to pass, otherwise we’re going to kick some kids out of [the school system], and I don’t think that’s something that we’re willing to risk over a couple other mils. At least we get this now, and we go back for more later if possible. … We have to pass this now, and this at least gives us some foundation and buys us some time.”

Despite the overwhelming support at the meeting, District 5 Councilman Tommy Overcash recalled how “evenly divided” Madison was more than two decades ago when they were faced with a similar issue. Though the school system has since proved to be one of Madison’s greatest assets and the tax increase will not likely bring about as much controversy as it did back then, Overcash noted that it is important for supporters to help explain to others why it should pass next year.

“People don’t like taxes,” he said. “They love great school systems, but they don’t really like to pay more taxes, even as small as our taxes are. … Even the ones that don’t have kids in the school system anymore, it maintains our property values, and it maintains the quality of life for our city.”

Both District 7 Councilman John Seifert and District 1 Councilwoman Maura Wroblewski also expressed their support for the school system based on positive experiences with their own children in the system. Seifert’s wife is also a teacher in Madison City Schools.

“As a citizen, my vote is ‘yes’ for the tax because I want to see my son and any other students have the opportunities to succeed,” Seifert said.

Both Apse and Becky Ramsey, among others, also noted how low Madison’s property taxes are compared to other places they’ve lived, which they said contributed to their support of an increase.

“We have to do this for our children, for our future, our property taxes—all of that,” Ramsey said. “… I really think that we need to move forward on this.”

Following the public hearing, Madison City Council voted unanimously to approve the resolution concerning the property tax proposal. From here, the council will send the tax proposal to the state legislature to obtain special legislation to authorize the placement of the tax increase on the ballot for a vote. Since 2019 is an off-year for elections, a special election will have to be called, which residents can expect to take place sometime between August and Oct. 1, 2019.

If the ad valorem tax increase is approved in fall 2019, the council can levy the increase in time for collection Oct. 1, 2020, according to school board attorney Woody Sanderson.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said at the joint meeting last month that the city will be financially prepared to hold the special election.

Triana residents also face the property tax increase since children in the community attend Madison City Schools, and they will hold their own public hearing Nov. 19.

Another public hearing took place at the meeting—one for JR Food Stores Inc.’s (doing business as Crossroads IGA #760) request of an off-premise beer and wine license for their location at 8064 Old Madison Pike. The resolution was approved with no public comments.

In other business, the council underwent reorganization. District 2 Councilman Steve Smith was named the new president of Madison City Council, and Seifert will fill the role of president pro tempore.

The council’s finance committee was also reorganized. The committee now consists of Powell filling place 1 on the committee, District 4 Councilman Greg Shaw filling place 2 and Overcash filling place 3.

Following the reorganization, Madison Mayor Paul Finley proclaimed the designation of Nov. 27 of this year as “Giving Tuesday,” a celebration of philanthropy and volunteerism.

Beverly Jones-Durr, founder, president and executive director of nonprofit Every Child Has a Story, joined Finley for the proclamation.

“This really is a wonderful thing for our organization, and hopefully we’ll raise a lot of money,” she said.

Hunter Goffinett of Troop 201 also returned to give an update on fundraising and the completion of his Eagle Scout project. The council agreed in September to help Hunter with his proposed project: a flag retirement fire pit for American Legion Post 229 to be located at Madison Veterans Memorial Park. Hunter also had to obtain permission from the Madison Station Historic Preservation Commission to begin work on his project. His design included a lockable top for safety concerns, and he initially aimed to complete his project by December of this year.

Goffinett said more than 100 man hours went into establishing the new fire pit, and though he went over his original budget, the council still agreed to help the project with $500 if Goffinett can match that with his own fundraising efforts.

The council also approved all items on the consent agenda and finance committee report. The biggest item included a payment of just over $741,000 to Hoar Construction LLC for the construction of the multi-use venue stadium. Just over $98,000 will also go to Turner Construction in relation to the stadium.

Other big ticket payments included almost $45,000 to Croy Engineering for the survey and preliminary designs for the widening of Sullivan Street, and another $23,125 for the Sullivan Street/Browns Ferry Road intersection. Strand Associates will get $8,500 for their part in the Balch Road/Gillespie Road roundabout, and S&ME Inc. will receive a little more than $7,200 for the widening of Hughes Road from Plaza Boulevard to Millsford Drive.

Council also approved all donations and appropriations. State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw provided three appropriations, each in the amount of $5,000, to support the Madison Fire Department, Madison Police Department and the Madison Senior Center. He also provided appropriations of $30,000 to help with the crosswalk at Palmer and County Line roads and $50,000 to support the Home Place Park project. State Rep. Mike Ball provided an appropriation of $2,500 for next year’s SRO Kid’s Camp. One donation of $100 from Robert and Patricia Wilson for the fire department was also approved.

During the presentation of reports, Smith shared a few words on his appointment as the new council president.

“The city’s really special to each and every one of us up here,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great people in our city—we’ve got a lot of families and hard workers, and it takes a whole village to make our city work. Starting from the mayor all the way down to our employees to committee members, and just average citizens taking part.”

Smith also introduced his plan to have one member of the council each month over the next year to give a special Madison coin to a member of the community that they see as going above and beyond for the city. Finley presented the first coin to longtime resident BeBe Oetjen, who attends almost every single council meeting and shows a sincere love for Madison.

Finley and a few council members also had their own items to address. Finley proposed a resolution to adopt the growth policy for residential development. Council fine-tuned this policy at a recent work session and shared it at their joint meeting with the school board. The council voted unanimously to approve this policy as a guideline for future growth in the city.

Under Smith’s agenda, the council rescheduled the Dec. 24 city council meeting to Dec. 17.

Council also approved both of Overcash’s resolutions: one to change the job classification plan to include two new positions, and another to approve the job descriptions for those positions.

One board appointment was confirmed at the meeting. David Barrett will fill the place 1 seat on the Industrial Development Board.

The council also approved all resolutions and ordinances up for a vote concerning several city departments, including engineering, fire, information technology, police, planning, revenue and legal. These items respectively include:

  • the acceptance of Greenbrier Hills, Phase II into the City of Madison Maintenance Program
  • the acceptance of Interstate Commercial Park, Phase I into the City of Madison Maintenance Program
  • a contractor agreement with Champion Home Remodeling
  • the termination of an agreement with ESO Solutions Inc. for emergency medical provider software and services
  • the execution by the mayor of an annual maintenance agreement with Mimecast through SHI in the amount of $18,145.79
  • the execution by the mayor of another annual maintenance agreement with Microsoft through SHI in the amount of $16,451.25
  • an agreement for community traffic safety program grant participation with the North Alabama Highway Safety Office
  • an agreement with LeadsOnline LLC for investigation service software
  • an agreement with Atlas Business Solutions Inc. for scheduling software
  • the trade-in of a 2007 Ford 150 XLT pickup truck; the trade-in amount will be used for “the purchase of newer equipment of like kind”
  • an agreement with Mazda Motor of America Inc.
  • the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would vacate a portion of utility and drainage easement on a property on Plaza Boulevard
  • the setting of a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to amend a section of the zoning ordinance pertaining to thrift stores
  • the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would exempt certain “covered items” from the municipal sales & use tax from Feb. 22-24, 2019, as authorized by the severe weather preparedness tax holiday legislation
  • the first reading of a proposed ordinance to allow the vacation of an easement and easement agreement with Smart Living LLC
  • a public hearing regarding a “dangerous building” at 8000 Old Madison Pike

The meeting closed with a public hearing that will continue at the Dec. 10 meeting concerning what has been deemed a “dangerous building” around Miller Plaza on Old Madison Pike.

City attorney Megan Zingarelli said there were several concerns with the dilapidated building noted by the building and fire departments. The building has been found to have 14 code violations, and the electricity was shut off for safety reasons.

Oetjen, who said she has been complaining about the building for about 20 years,  expressed relief that something may finally be done about it.

Spencer also shared his thoughts, saying he has not seen any improvements to the building for several decades.

As of now, the city is working to figure out the best solution, but the general consensus is that most do not want to see the city use their own funds to demolish it. Attorney Carey Walker is working with the building’s owner, who lives in England, to work out a solution as well.

Madison City Council typically meets on the second and fourth Mondays of every month in the council chambers at Madison Municipal Complex, located at 100 Hughes Road. Stay up to date on city and council matters at madisonal.gov.

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