School system, police force possible goals after Clay OKs property tax
By Lee Weyhrich
CLAY — Clay’s new property tax could be the first step to a school system or a police department.
The Clay City Council voted 4-1 Monday to levy a five-millage ad valorem property tax. The rate equates to $50 per year on a house with an assessed value of $100,000. It would be $100 per year on a house with an assessed value of $200,000. Councilman Ben Thackerson was the only council member to vote against the property tax.
Councilmen Kevin Small and Ricky Baker suggested that the tax be earmarked specifically for a school system, should residents be willing to vote for the additional property taxes needed to bring a school system to life. Baker estimates that residents would need to vote for an additional 10 mills in taxes for a school system to be possible.
If a school system vote were not to pass, the tax revenue voted on Monday would go toward public safety and would be used to begin a full-time police force for the city.
The original goal of the ad valorem tax was to give the city’s general fund a steady income. According to Mayor Charles Webster and City Manager Ronnie Dixon, the city’s current revenue is only good enough to keep things going as they are, and the additional revenue is needed in order to do the things that residents want to see, such as paving, park projects and other improvements. Webster sees the silver lining in the changes, however.
“I’m fine with the way it went,” he said. “It wasn’t the way I would have done it but that’s why we have five people up here now. I had hoped it would have gone in the general account to start with in order to stabilize the revenue, and once that was accomplished we could move it toward schools or police. If the citizens are OK with where we’re at we’ll keep moving forward with what we have. I think we’re maxed out on sales tax, and we’ve passed all the property tax we can have.”
He added that a good school system would likely bring in revenue from an increase in population and business that would accompany it, as has happened in Trussville.
“I think we could do a better job than what the county does (with education) because they’re focused on a lot of schools,” Webster said.
According to Small, with the exception of Tarrant and Birmingham, every municipality that has started a school system has seen an increase in property values, population and revenue.
“I think the county is not taking care of our kids, and cities are having to do that,” Small said. “We’ve got to step up.”
There was no Plan B in place for stabilizing current revenue, however.
“Five mill is technically all we can pass; anything over that has to be voted on,” Webster said. “Any other ad valorem tax would have to go to a vote.”
The five mills will be even across the board for all properties unless the owner can provide proof of an exemption, such as senior citizen or disabled status, or any of the other exemptions found at https://www.revenue.alabama.gov/advalorem/exemptions/exemptions.cfm.
Since the city has existed, there’s been little upkeep and maintenance of the roads and the storm sewer system, Dixon said. The federal government mandates that these items be addressed, Dixon said, but without the five mills, the revenue stream is not there to make these updates. If anything disrupted the current sales tax revenue the city would have a hard time completing projects already on the agenda. Even barring any disruptions, the current income is only enough to maintain status quo.
“If the citizens are satisfied with the services and the conditions that the city is in now, we can maintain them,” Dixon said. “Without a stable form of income we cannot proceed any further than what we are.”
The tax voted on Monday will not be collected until 2015 and will not be available to the city until 2016.