Northport School System Would Require Tax Hikes, Study Finds
The city of Northport will need to siphon existing tax revenue and hike up sales tax, property tax or both to finance its own school system, a professional feasibility study found.
The study, which was commissioned in February 2022, was provided to the Thread Friday in response to a public records request. It will be presented to the city council during a committee meeting Monday.
The study outlines the predicted costs associated with two scenarios. In the first scenario, the city would take over 11 schools that are in the Tuscaloosa County School System and take stewardship exclusively of children who currently live in the Northport city limits, which would create a student population of 3,870 children.
Those schools include Crestmont Elementary School, Echols Middle School, Flatwoods Elementary School, Huntington Place Elementary School, Matthews Elementary School,
Northport Elementary School, Northport Intermediate School, Lloyd Wood Education Center,
Collins-Riverside Intermediate School, Tuscaloosa County High School and Faucett-Vestavia Elementary School.
In the second scenario, the new system would include all 5,550 students who currently attend those schools regardless of their home addresses. Even students who do not live in the city limits would be grandfathered into the new school system, which would avoid breaking up existing classes but drive up costs dramatically.
Criterion Consulting, LLC, the outside firm hired to conduct the feasibility study, tried to estimate the cost to operate the system against the city's revenue streams. In both proposed scenarios, the city will have to raise millions in new tax revenue annually.
The smaller school system, made up only of students who live in the city limits, would require at least $9.2 million in new tax dollars. That would require a property tax increase of 15 - 34 mills, depending on what other revenue the city is able to secure.
The larger system with all 5,550 students would take more than $14 million, which would require a property tax increase of at least 24 mills and possibly as high as 51 mills.
In a summary of their findings, Criterion said if Northport is to have its own school system, it will need to pull away some portion of existing sales revenue tax away from the Tuscaloosa County School System.
In 2015, the legislature passed a bill that Governor Kay Ivey signed into law which "combined a then temporary one-cent sales tax with an existing two-cent sales tax into a continuing and stable three-cent county-wide sales tax that is collected in support of several entities," the study summarized.
"The participation of a new Northport City School System in receiving revenues from the county-wide three-cent sales tax is critical for the long-term financial stability and success of the school system," Criterion said.
Right now, TCSS gets 25 percent of that revenue and the study suggested that Northport would not have to raise taxes as sharply if they can pull some of that cash away. That may not come easy, they said.
"The formation of a Northport City School System in and of itself will not enable the new system to participate in the receipt of these sales tax collections. To do so, either Tuscaloosa County would have to agree to give Northport part of its share (which it is not legally required to do) or the existing Act governing the disbursement of these funds would have to be legislatively amended to include a Northport City School System."
That would require lobbying for help from Montgomery and some legislative action either before the session ends or during a special session.
Even with that money, property taxes will have to go up, and as residents in Tuscaloosa County have just overwhelmingly voted against measures that, combined, would have raised property tax by eight mills, it is hard to imagine a successful push for the increases necessary to fund a Northport School System.
The study, which is 144 pages, will be presented in greater detail to the city council Monday - stay connected to the Thread for updates and reactions from the council as they develop.