Tuscaloosa Council Punts on Advancing Vote on Tax Hike for Schools
The Tuscaloosa City Council will wait another week before likely advancing a proposal to allow voters to decide whether to raise property taxes in city limits in support of municipal schools.
Members of the seven-member council would be quick to note their vote is strictly procedural - somewhat convoluted state law requires Tuscaloosa City Schools to request a tax increase from the council, which votes on whether to send the matter to the state legislature.
Montgomery lawmakers then decide whether to place the tax increase on local ballots for an up-or-down vote of the citizens, who get the final say in the matter. A council member's vote should not be understood as a vote to raise taxes, they argued.
"The city council cannot pass a property tax," council president Kip Tyner said. "I am a firm believer in giving the people the last say. [...] But without us passing this tonight and them going to the legislature for them to pass it or whatever they decide to do, there won't be an election."
The council voted 6-1 to advance the tax proposal Tuesday night, but Councilor Lee Busby voted no, which was enough to delay the matter another week - the measure required a unanimous vote to proceed this week.
Now, instead, it will be carried over for another council vote next Tuesday, December 19th, when a simple majority will be enough to pass the resolution. If that happens, the matter will go to the legislature, where advocates for the property tax increase hope it will be quickly cleared for a special election held within the city sometime in 2024.
As the Thread has previously reported at length, the board of directors at Tuscaloosa City Schools believes the system must raise more than $17 million in Fiscal Year 2025 to both maintain and improve their top priorities. Those include School Safety, Educator Excellence and Student Services & Programs.
To do that, TCS is asking residents who live inside Tuscaloosa city limits to increase their property taxes by 11.5 mills - a 22 percent hike from current rates.
If adopted, the ad valorem tax on a property assessed to be worth $100,000 would climb from $515 to $630 annually. Taxes on motor vehicles would also increase by the same level.
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 will not go into effect until 2025.
And convincing people to increase their taxes is difficult - a perfect storm of issues saw a similar referendum that would have raised property taxes outside city limits to better fund the Tuscaloosa County School System get overwhelmingly defeated earlier this year.
For more updates on the situation as it develops within the city this year and next, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.
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