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Council to address school-tax extension

News Staff Writer

The informal and unstructured workshop held Monday, September 16, by Atmore’s mayor and city council was designed for discussion of long-range goals and plans. But it was a matter of more immediate importance that was one of the most discussed items during the workshop, which was held at Atmore Public Library.
Council members will introduce an ordinance at their September 23 meeting to call for a referendum to extend the current 5-mil special tax for partial funding of schools within Atmore’s city limits.
City Clerk Becca Smith said the tax, which has been in place since 1958, generates “about $330,000 to $350,000 per year.” That money, which is sent to the Escambia County Board of Education, is used to help pay the salaries, taxes and benefits of assistant principals and at least one counselor.
Atmore is one of 42 cities and towns in 10 different counties that were allowed, under Amendment 8 of the Alabama Constitution, to levy the 5-mil tax for educational funding.
“This actually goes back to the early 1900s, but Becca found that the first election … where that tax was enacted by referendum, by a vote of the people, for the benefit of the Atmore school system, was in 1958,” said City Attorney Larry Wettermark, who acted as moderator for the informal session. “It was renewed in 1978, and the last time it was renewed was November 2000. It’s a 20-year extension of the tax, and it’s time to do that again.”
He reiterated the importance of public awareness that the local tax has been on the books for at least six decades.
“This is not a new tax,” he said. “It simply maintains the level of funding. The tax is already on the books, and I think it’s critical for the school system to have this. You already have general funding for the schools, but this is 5 mils extra that has to be spent just for Atmore schools.”
The Rev. Willie Hawthorne asked if the tax extension would affect the proposed city school system, were such a referendum to pass.
“You need to make sure this vote is not tied to perceptions about that,” said the city attorney. “The last thing you want to do is make this existing tax vote in any way tied to the new, independent school system study. We need to make sure we differentiate that.”
Murray Johnson pointed out that the tax is a relatively nominal one.
“It’s roughly $50 a year for a $100,000 house,” he said.
Next Monday’s meeting will be held at 4 p.m. in the Council Chambers of Atmore City Hall.
Other topics discussed at the workshop included a possible annexation that would link downtown Atmore with Rivercane, as well as potential foreclosure action against owners of “marketable property” that has been allowed to deteriorate, the purchase of a new garbage truck, construction of a new city shop, new lighting for city hall and replacement or repair of street lights along Carver Avenue and Liberty Street.