The Tuscaloosa City School board has voted unanimously to request a special election asking citizens to invest more money in education by raising property taxes for the first time in almost 40 years.

As the Thread reported earlier this month, the board and TCS Superintendent Mike Daria signaled the vote was coming after a survey of more than 2,000 stakeholders helped them identify their priorities going forward.

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Today, the property tax rate in Tuscaloosa city limits is 51.5 mills, and TCS receives only 15.5 mills of that revenue.

TCS Chief School Financial Officer Jay Duke estimated what it could cost to continue what the system is doing well and enhance the areas of need identified by the community input.

He determined the system needs $17.25 in new revenue by Fiscal Year 2025 - around $8 million to just continue the high-priority programs already in place at TCS and another $9.25 million to enhance them.

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The only way a school system in Alabama can generate more revenue is to request an increase in property tax, which Daria recommended and the board approved unanimously Tuesday night.

"What you see here is a resolution requesting the city council assist the City Board in holding a special election for up to 11.5 mill increase for the purpose of education," Daria said.

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If adopted, the the ad valorem tax on a property assessed to be worth $100,000 would climb from $515 to $630 annually.

That represents a 22 percent increase over the current millage rate, but the board said this tax rate has not changed in decades and increasing funding must be a priority.

"The millage rate has been the same since 1986. Since that time, our country, our community and the public education system have evolved and grown dramatically," said District 3 Board Member Lesley Powell in a statement. "In order to responsibly preserve, grow and enhance positive outcomes from our school system, we are compelled to act. We simply cannot wait any longer."

Spirited debate is common for the board, but its seven members spoke with one voice in support of this tax increase.

"Strong communities produce strong schools and strong schools produce strong communities. It's a two-way street," District 4's Patrick Hamner said. "This is something that is going to benefit kids starting in two years and be something hopefully that benefits kids 10 years, 15, 20 years from now."

Each board member expressed similar sentiments.

"This is a long time coming and this is, as everybody has already said, for the future of our system and the future of our city," said District 6's Marvin Lucas. "We must do something to make sure that we maintain and continue to have strong schools so we can maintain and continue to have a strong community, and it starts here, today."

The referendum, if it clears the remaining hurdles ahead, will go before voters who live in Tuscaloosa sometime in 2024, and any increase to ad valorem taxes would not go into effect until 2025.

That's if voters can get behind the need for increasing their own property taxes - a referendum to increase ad valorem taxes in Tuscaloosa County outside city limits by three, five or eight mills to support the county school system was rejected four votes to one earlier this year.

For more on the special election as it is organized, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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