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Madison won’t vote on property tax hike for schools this year

Madison residents will not be voting this year on a proposed 6-mill property tax increase for funding to Madison City Schools.

Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler

The property tax increase would have replaced a half-cent sales tax that has funded construction of James Clemens High School, along with allocating operating funds for the Madison school district.

“The Madison Board of Education has informed City Council that (the tax proposal) should not be on ballot because it can’t withstand the scrutiny of legal challenges,” Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler said.

The state legislature had passed the bill to allow the city to vote. However, Madison County legislators significantly changed the original bill, and the amended bill was not advertised to the public for the mandated four weeks, thus opening it to threat of litigation.

“According to the Alabama constitution, a local bill (like the property tax proposal) has to be passed as advertised,” Fowler said. City Attorney Woody Sanderson and bond counsel attorney David Spurlock have determined the amended bill is unconstitutional.

Originally, Sanderson and Spurlock had written the bill to required specifications, Fowler said. Madison City Council submitted a resolution to Madison County legislators to introduce the bill in Montgomery.

“One or more legislators decided to give Triana an exception to allow two years (instead of one year) to pass a property tax,” Fowler said. “Local legislators did (the changes) with no malice. They were trying to be benevolent to Triana.”

City Council initially approved the half-cent sales tax for 17 years. “City Council and Mayor Paul Finley have placed a lid on the tax, which would disappear when the qualified school construction bonds are paid off,” Fowler said.

“This is not a crisis,” Fowler said. “But any time there are funds you had anticipated in receiving and don’t, you’re back at the drawing board and trimming budgets.”

How does Fowler feel about this situation? “Tired,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard and collaboratively with the mayor and City Council. They’re just as tired as we are. When you work hard and miss the mark, there is that feeling of remorse. When you put your all into something, you should have that feeling.”

The local bill can be introduced again at the next legislative session in February 2013.

In 1998, Madison residents approved an 11-mill property tax increase to establish a city school system, separate from Madison County Schools.

In other board action, Nelson Brown was named as the new principal at Liberty Middle School. Brown, who has been principal at Columbia Elementary School, will replace Dr. Brian Clayton, the new principal at James Clemens.

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