This story is muddy. It’s a story of two Alabama State Constitutional Amendments, an Alabama Legislature, county commission and school district that needed to find a way to keep a school tax in place for the Gardendale sub-district by side-stepping an amendment and a city government that made it even more difficult with 10 mills worth of property taxes for schools that have been in place for almost 10 years with no city school system and no repeal of the tax.
When I was a kid, if you were out playing and got really muddy you had to turn the water hose on and get cleaned off before coming into the house.
With this kind of mud, we are going to need the water hose.
For what it’s worth, and I have never put too much stock in degrees, I am a highly educated guy with a law degree and even I had to spend several days communicating with legal and political sources about how this became so muddy and trying to decipher the language of bills, amendments, and ballots to follow a chain to the answer to one question; is the so-called Jefferson County School Tax Gardendale is voting on April 12th a tax increase?
There are some foundations we will need as we take what has happened in steps.
The Alabama Constitutional amendments that are focal points are Amendment 82 and Amendment 3.
Then there is HB546. This stands for “House Bill” 546, coming out of the legislature in Montgomery. A bill had to be passed, by the house and senate, to even make all of this work.
Next, we have a couple of taxes levied over many years that Gardendale residents have been paying as part of the Jefferson County School District of which Gardendale continues to be part of. There is a 5.1 mill tax and an 8.8 mill tax.
It’s important to note that these are separate taxes and add up to 13.9 mills of property tax and Gardendale has been paying them for years.
Let’s toss into this pot 10 mills in property taxes that the City of Gardendale put in place in 2012-2013 for the purpose of funding its own school system and separating from the Jefferson County School District.
5 mills of the 10 mills was a straight no voter needed property tax approved by the Gardendale City Council and the other 5 mills was balloted and approved by the Gardendale voters in 2013.
The 10 mills of tax that Gardendale has in place will play a major role in why HB546 was needed before Gardendale votes on April 12th.
Now that we have these bills, amendments and taxes front and center, we can begin laying out what they mean and how they all play a role in the question we wanted to know. Again, is this a tax increase?
Around 30 years ago, there was a move to increase an existing 5 mill ad valorem tax funding the Jefferson County School District. The tax was increased by 3.8 mills to bring the total under this tax, which falls under Amendment 82, to 8.8 mills. This tax is a 30-year tax and must be reapproved by voters before it expires every 30 years.
Years before the above tax, there was a separate 5.1 mill ad valorem tax that was put in place for the Jefferson County School District. It was under Amendment 3. This was years before the 8.8 mills came into play.
So, as we move into the next phase, we have at this point, two taxes. One is 5.1 mills and has been around for decades and is tied to amendment 3 and the other is an 8.8 mill tax tied to amendment 82 that’s about 30 years old.
In 2017, all school sub-districts under the Jefferson County School District, except three, voted on renewing the 8.8 mills that was tied to Amendment 82.
Gardendale did not participate in that vote. One reason was the previously mentioned issue with the 10 mills in property tax the City of Gardendale was already collecting. In 2017, Gardendale had not yet given up on having its own school system and that option was still viable. It was decided to table Gardendale from the voting of the tax for that reason, plus one more.
Amendment 82 was the amendment tied to the 8.8 mills and under the language of the amendment, if Gardendale was collecting 10 mills in property tax for public school purposes, then under the amendment, the Jefferson County tax would have to decrease by the amount of the Gardendale tax, which would lessen the tax. This was a problem.
Since Gardendale didn’t have final approval of its own school system in 2017 and was still operating under the Jefferson County School District, the vote could be tabled, because the 8.8 mills is a 30-year tax and ends with the tax year ending 9/30/21 which funds through the current school year.
On the actual April 12th ballot it will read 25 years. Why? Because the bigger vote on this was in March 2017 and Gardendale didn’t participate. This was 5 years ago on a 30-year tax.
If Gardendale had been successful in establishing its own school system, as every other city that had attempted this had accomplished, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But the federal courts didn’t allow Gardendale to establish its own school system and Gardendale Schools remained under the Jefferson County School District.
The 8.8 mills must now be voted on or there will be a funding gap of approximately 2 million dollars to the local Gardendale public schools.
But there is still that pesky amendment 82 issue. Gardendale still has 10 mills in place, even after the attempt to form its own school system failed, the 10 mills didn’t go away. It is still being taxed and collected from those who live in Gardendale. The City Council did not repeal either of the 2 taxes that make up the 10 mills, though 5 mills was “repurposed” by the Gardendale City Council.
Due to the Gardendale school taxes still being in place, the 8.8 mill tax for Jefferson County School District still can’t fully be put in place under amendment 82.
This is where HB546 steps in and changes where the 8.8 mills can be taxed under to keep the funding for the schools. Remember the 5.1 mills under Amendment 3?
At the point where the current 8.8 mills ends under amendment 82, HB546 will be used to increase the current 5.1 mills being taxed under amendment 3 by the 8.8 mills already being taxed under amendment 82.
This will bring the tax under amendment 3 to 13.9 mills. The 8.8 mills currently being taxed under amendment 82 will expire naturally as the 30 years is now up.
So, effectively, there is no tax increase in this April 12th vote for Gardendale, as it pertains to the taxes to the Jefferson County School District.
The 13.9 mills in total will still be the same 13.9 mills that Gardendale voters have been paying for the schools. The 13.9 mills will simply be combined into one tax under Amendment 3.
The 5 mills still in place that the voters in Gardendale approved in 2013 in order to form a separate school system is not tied to the 13.9 mills. Neither is the 5-mills approved by the Gardendale City Council, outside of voter approval, and is still in place.
Those are City of Gardendale taxes and Gardendale residents can make their own decisions about what they believe should happen with those. That would have to come through a repeal of the separate Gardendale 10 mills. There are those who argue now for a repeal of at least the 5-mills that were voter approved.
The tax on the ballot for Gardendale voters on April 12th is for Gardendale schools through the Jefferson County School District.
Whatever Gardendale voters decide on any of the taxes, our journey was to help provide some clarity on what Gardendale will vote on April 12th and how it came to be and does it involve a tax increase.
As it pertains to the 13.9 mills in total to the Jefferson County School District, there is no tax increase. We just needed to turn the water hose on and get all the mud off so we could see what was underneath.
The ballot for April 12th for Gardendale voters:
CONTINUATION AND RENEWAL OF 8.8 MILLS OF AD VALOREM SCHOOL DISTRICT TAXATION FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL TAX SUB-DISTRICT G-1 (GARDENDALE) IN JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA, FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL PURPOSES THEREIN
Shall a special ad valorem school district tax be levied and collected annually in Jefferson County School Tax Sub-District G-1 (being the area within the corporate limits of the City of Gardendale, Alabama; herein the “Gardendale Sub-District G-1”), to preserve, renew and continue, without increase, the total rate and duration of existing ad valorem school district taxation in Gardendale Sub-District G-1, for public school purposes therein, at the uniform rate of 13.9 mills by the adjustment of the rate of the existing ad valorem school district tax of 5.1 mills by 8.8 mills to the uniform adjusted rate of 13.9 mills effective simultaneously with the reduction of 8.8 mills of ad valorem school district taxation in Gardendale Sub-District G-1 (by expiration of a separate ad valorem school district tax therein) for a period of twenty-five years beginning with the levy for the tax year October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022 (the tax for which year will be due and payable October 1, 2022) and ending with the levy for the tax year October 1, 2045 to September 30, 2046 (the tax for which year will be due and payable October 1, 2046).
______________ FOR proposed taxation
______________ AGAINST proposed taxation