GUNTERSVILLE — In a packed room at the Marshall County Courthouse, local leaders, educators and concerned citizens gathered Wednesday to discuss imposing an additional 1-cent countywide sales tax. While some opposed the tax, nearly all attendees agreed on one thing: the Marshall County school system is in dire financial need.
Marshall County has five separate school systems: Albertville City Schools, Boaz City Schools, Guntersville City Schools, Arab City Schools, and Marshall County Schools. While each district receives sales tax revenue, city schools tend to get the lion’s share due to the number of businesses and residences within municipal boundaries where sales tax is currently 9 cents on the dollar versus 5 cents in the county.
According The Sand Mountain Reporter, a 2017 analysis by the Marshall County Board of Education showed that schools in Marshall County received $226.06 per student from sales tax revenue, compared to Guntersville which received about $1,456.87 per student. ; Arabic, $1,047.01 per student; Boaz, $895.65 per student; and Albertville, nearly $744.20 per student.
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Cindy Wigley said her district’s maintenance needs, which include renovations and additional school buildings, currently stand at nearly $200 million. She first proposed the 1-cent sales tax hike at a Marshall County Commission meeting on Oct. 12. The increase could potentially bring in an additional $15 million a year, which would be split among other school districts, with county schools receiving a third. of sales ; Albertville City Schools one-third; and Arab, Boaz, and Guntersville dividing the remainder.
Commissioners elected to defer the matter until Wednesday’s meeting to give city mayors time to consider the proposal. Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar said on October 12 that she was neither for nor against because she had just learned of it hours before the meeting, according to The Reporter.
On Wednesday, Dollar spoke for himself and the other county mayors and again asked the Commission to delay the vote on the tax increase to allow more time to consider alternatives.
“The four of us would appreciate the opportunity to work with all parties involved to find a solution that benefits all students and citizens of Marshall County,” Dollar said at the meeting. “[W]We want the best for everyone. However, we need more time to develop a long-term plan that meets all funding needs through multiple means. We are committed to working together to find a solution.”
Marshall County School Board Chairman Brian Naugher objected to the wait, saying this issue has been brought before the Commission many times and can no longer be ignored.
“So the question is, why not today?” Naugher said. “…Let’s stop kicking that box on the road. You’re approving that today. It’s going to be two years before we get a place in a classroom because of the constricting weather… This means overcrowding will get worse.
“We have already reduced our expenses to provide what our students, teachers and support staff need to teach tomorrow’s leaders today,” he added. “I would like to ask you this: stop kicking the streets. Today is the day to move the county forward… We have the tools, we just need a little more help. “
Several members of the public also expressed concern over the 1-cent hike. Local resident Stephanie Hadwin told the Commission on Wednesday that as a mother she understands the importance of providing the best resources for a good education. However, as a small business owner, she said even a 1-cent tax hike could have devastating consequences for her livelihood as well as many others who are still reeling from the lockdowns. of COVID-19.
“As it is, we’re already scratching our heads trying to keep our doors open,” she said. “We already have people saying, ‘If they’re successful, I’m just going to go to Huntsville and go shopping. More than 1 cent. This is something we actually hear. “
Commissioners again voted to delay a decision on the new tax, this time until December 14, when they will consider alternatives or vote on the original proposal. However, the President of the Commission, James Hutcheson, expressed his wish to find a solution as soon as possible.
“We threw this box down the road as far as we could throw it,” Hutcheson said. “I think it’s time to do something about it.”
District 2 Commissioner Rick Watson, who introduced the motion to delay the vote until December, said he believed the matter would finally be resolved “one way or another,” and let more time for planning would help ensure they choose the best option.
“Everyone knows we have a problem,” Watson said. “I think it shows that they are determined to find a solution.”
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