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House introduces local tax measure

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
MONTGOMERY – Representative Greg Albritton got the ball rolling toward a public vote on a property tax increase for education Thursday when he introduced local legislation into the House of Representatives.
Albritton, who represents parts of Atmore and grew up in Nokomis, introduced the legislation calling for a vote of the citizens of Escambia County on a proposed 10-mill property tax increase to help fund education. The bill underwent its first reading Thursday morning, and representatives will not be in session this week as part of the normal Spring Break recess.
"I sponsored the bill, and House Speaker Seth Hammett co-sponsored it," Albritton said. "Rep. (Skippy) White may be added to the bill later, but he couldn't sign off on it because he wasn't here."
White is recovering from surgery and has been unable to attend this session, but Albritton said the bill could have his name added to it at a later date.
The measure will undergo a second and third reading before being put to a vote of the House, Albritton said, and that things could continue to move quickly through the House and Senate. The representative pointed out that the measure only began to take shape in late January and early February, meaning that having reached this stage so quickly is rather unique.
"Once it reaches the Senate, we will be working with both Hank Sanders and Bradley Byrne to get it passed through there," Albritton said. State Senator Pat Lindsey, who represents Escambia County, is recovering from heart surgery and won't be able to attend this session.
"I don't think there will be any problems getting it through the House and Senate, but things do happen that can slow the process down. The soonest it would go to a vote of the people would be mid-April, but I think that's pretty quick for the short time that we've had this bill developed."
Once the measure passes through the House and Senate, then advertising for an election would take place on the county level. Voters could then vote on it any time after the advertisements, and most officials feel the vote could come any time between May and September.
Board of Education officials have said that proration and other funding cuts have forced the district to look for revenue elsewhere, and that an increase in property taxes would provide stable funding. Property taxes in Escambia County for education have not been raised since 1927.
Opponents of the measure say that trimming the budget and holding officials more accountable would help alleviate the funding crunch. Opponents also say that taxes are currently too high and that it would be difficult to take on a greater tax burden.
Superintendent of Schools Melvin "Buck" Powell faces having to cut as many as 30 teaching units by the end of the school year due to state funding shortfalls, and he has indicated that schools such as McCall, Flomaton High School and Huxford Elementary – along with various programs throughout the district – could be cut or closed due to a lack of funds.