City holds workshop

Published 10:58 am Thursday, September 19, 2019

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To call on election for education tax renewal

An ordinance to call for an election to renew a special 5 mil ad valorem tax that is dedicated to Atmore schools will be on the city council’s agenda at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

The discussion to place the existing and current ad valorem tax was held Monday at Atmore Public Library during a workshop with City Council Members Chris Walker, Chris Harrison, Webb Nall, Susan Smith and Jerome Webster; Mayor Jim Staff; City Attorney Larry Wettermark; and members of the public.

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Wettermark said according to Amendment 8 of the state constitution, it names Atmore as one of 10 that can have a special 5 mil ad valorem tax dedicated to just the school system in Atmore. Current schools in Atmore include Rachel Patterson Elementary, Escambia County Middle and Escambia County High School.

“That amendment goes back to the early 1900s,” Wettermark said. “In 1958 the first election was held and a tax was voted by the people for the benefit of the Atmore school system. It was renewed in 1978, and the last time it was renewed was in November 2000 for a 20-year extension of the tax. It’s time to do that again.”

Wettermark stressed the importance of the tax because current schools will maintain the same level of funding.

Wettermark said he’s drawn an ordinance, which he suggested the council vote on next Monday, that simply calls a vote of the people for a 20-year extension of an existing tax. The vote would be for the call of the election, and a timeline for said election will be included in the ordinance, he said.

“I’ll stress that this is not a new tax,” he said. “This is simply maintaining the funding that are already on the books. It’s critical for our school system to have this.”

At present the city receives approximately $325,000 in mileage each year, Staff said Monday night. He said the money pays for two assistant principals — one each at the middle school and high school; one counselor; a choral teacher; and a foreign language teacher.

Harrison asked whether the city council could request that the money goes straight to the schools instead of through the Escambia County School System, which distributes the funds.

Wettermark said he’d look into the matter.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • the need for the city to look at additional annexation and territory, namely connecting the Rivercane Development with downtown.

Wettermark, who has completed annexation efforts for the city of Mobile, said financially, this is a good option, however.

“The problem is that it gets more and more expensive to provide services like police and fire,” he said. “It’s unfair to those inside the city limits because businesses inside of the city limit pay the full rate, and the businesses outside pay the half rate.”

Wettermark provided preliminary and unofficial drawings of what the new annexation could look like. The drawings unite Interstate 65 with the entire corridor of Highway 21, “so you would have a consistent city,” he said.

Wettermark said his recommendation is to not force anybody or any residents to come into the city, but to look at vacant and business properties along that corridor. If we do this, people might come into the city or come in by petition, he said.

Wettermark said he believes that, if the city agrees, the legislature would take this up for vote.

At present, the council would look into the annexation and determine a proposed map area, and then see if the legislature is behind the annexation. If the legislature is in support, then the city would get a civil engineer to make official drawings of the proposed map while the legislature finalizes the action.

Additionally, the city would then identify the area of which it is proposing the annex, and the council would then approve the area at a meeting.

Staff said, if the city approves the annexation, it is not taking any voters in.

Other topics discussed included:

  • property;
  • purchasing a new garbage truck because the current truck that was bought two years ago is in constant need of repair. Discussion was held to buy a new truck, fix the current one and have it as a back up; and,
  • adding on to the street department’s building.