The ayes have it
By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
The question whether to renew a 3-mill ad valorem tax and institute an additional 10 mills was answered Tuesday night. The proposal passed by an overwhelming margin.
Right up to the ninth hour, Superintendent of Schools Melvin 'Buck' Powell was optimistic that the voters would come through in support of a beleaguered school system.
"I feel good about it," Powell said Monday afternoon. "But I always worry about those who remain quiet."
Powell resembled a politician running for re-election in the weeks before the vote, even though his position is appointed and he serves at the discretion of the county board of education.
There were appearances at churches, PTO meetings, teacher's gatherings and civic club meetings.
The story he told was the same everywhere. If the tax did not pass, the board could exercise any or all of several choices.
On the chopping block were Huxford Elementary and Pollard McCall Junior High, as well as the Turtle Point Science Center, athletics, band and many other extra curricular activities.
Already gone are one-fourth of the support personnel at the county office. Buses run on lower-grade fuel. Funding for technology and libraries has gone by the boards.
Voting was light early in the day at Atmore precincts, with traffic picking up to steady closer to noon.
"It has been pretty steady here all day," said Gordon Everette, a poll worker checking identification at Staff Chevrolet.
With the yes vote, the school system will still have to borrow money to begin the year in the fall, because the new money will not start coming in until December 2004. But repayment will be a lot easier, and at least 30 teachers who otherwise would have been let go will have jobs.
Those 30 teachers will be paid now from local funds. Money for their salaries was not allocated in the state budget, which is facing its own crisis. The teachers would have been allowed to finish out the year, but not been renewed. The board would have to vote to close the schools in question.
The additional 10 mills will raise the tax on a $25,000 automobile $37.50 per year. The owner of a $50,000 home would pay $50 more per year.
Opponents of the tax had argued that no businesses would want to locate in an area with high property tax rates.
At the time of the vote, Escambia County was collecting 7 mills. Only Wilcox County, with 3 mills ad valorem, had a lower tax rate than Escambia.
With the new tax rate in effect, the county will have a total of 13 mills, which places it 70th in the state of 128 districts, tied with Talladaga County.
With 33 of 34 precincts tallied, the vote was 63.43 in favor of the ad valorem increase and 36.66 against it.