Residents of Tuscaloosa County will vote Tuesday on increasing property taxes and providing the county school system with $15 million in new funding annually.

To be clear, the vote is only available to and will only affect the taxes of people who live in the county but outside the city of Tuscaloosa, which has its own municipal school system funded by a higher property tax rate inside the city limits.

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Keri Johnson, the superintendent of the Tuscaloosa County School System, asked for the special election back in November.

Johnson said there are 138 school districts in the state. With more than 19,000 students, TCSS is the ninth-largest by population and the biggest overall geographically. Despite that, TCSS ranks no. 122 in the state for the local funding it receives, she said.

Right now, the property tax rate for residents of the county who live outside the city of Tuscaloosa is 10 mills -- the lowest amount allowed by state law.

A mill is a unit for calculating property tax where one mill is equal to a thousandth of your property's assessed value. At a 10-mill rate, property worth $100,000 would be taxed $100 annually.

In the city of Tuscaloosa, property is taxed at 21 mills, more than twice the rate of properties in Northport and elsewhere in the county.

There are two measures on Tuesday's ballots -- one that would raise property tax rates by 5 mills and a separate measure to raise it by another 3 mills. If both pass, the new tax rate in Tuscaloosa County will be 18 mills.

The measures would allow the new tax to be collected for the next 30 years.

Johnson said the board asked for two separate measures to give residents some middle ground between the full 8-mill increase and a no vote. Placing two separate measures on Tuesday's ballots has confused some, but Johnson said changing things now would require new action from the state legislature and delay implementation of the new tax rate too long for the school system to reap any benefits this calendar year.

"If this passes tomorrow, we can start collecting that money this fall and we really just did not feel like we needed to wait another year to get this out," Johnson said Monday. "We felt like this is either going to pass or it's not going to pass, the odds of one passing and the other one not passing are probably pretty slim, so we thought it was important to just go ahead and get it out there," Johnson said Monday.

Johnson said if the measures pass, the cost to property owners wouldn't sting too badly -- taxes on property worth $100,000 would only increase by $75 annually, she said -- but the tax would begin immediately generating $15 million in new revenue for the county school system.

That would be spent on some construction projects and renovations, but also on increasing security -- Johnson said right now, 11 school resource officers service the 35 schools in the county system and this revenue would help improve that ratio.

She also said the tax revenue would partially be spent to expand access to Pre-K in the county school system and reduce class sizes at schools throughout the district.

(Tuscaloosa County School System)
(Tuscaloosa County School System)

The school system has outlined what increased property tax revenue could fund in six different areas in the region, including five entirely new schools and widespread improvements and additions to athletic facilities.

Johnson asked county residents to carefully study the facts and get out to vote Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in more than four dozen locations across the county -- voters can find their polling place at this site.

"I would just encourage people, if they are seeking more information, to please go visit our website and the information that we've been presenting across the county is readily available there," Johnson said. "We just want to educate people on what we're asking for and what it will mean for us if it passes."

The idea of raising the property tax rate has been met with some resistance, including an organized push from the Tuscaloosa County Farmer's Federation.

For election results as they come in, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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