The Baldwin County Commission started the new year with a bang Tuesday by extending indefinitely a penny sales tax that supports public schools.
The move frees the school system from having to worry about regular renewals of the tax by convincing the commision or the public via an election. The penny sales tax brings in $40 million annually.
No one spoke in opposition to the move before the unanimous vote, said Commissioner Charles “Skip” Gruber. The agenda for Tuesday’s post-New Year’s holiday meeting was published online Friday, he said.
According to Gruber, one of the biggest benefits to the school system is that because the tax is now permanent, the school board can use it to back bond issues for construction projects such as new schools, additions and renovations.
Because bonds require a long-term financial commitment, that couldn’t be done while the tax had an expiration date and could potentially face nonrenewal.
“I think the [commission] leadership said let’s help the schools; they do have a problem,” Gruber said. “Looking at what the growth is, this year alone they had 610 kids, new, that came into the school system. That’s almost a middle school, what a whole middle school would have. And it’s getting to be that much every year.”
The penny tax has been approved by voters before, but recent property tax renewals and initiatives have run into trouble. At the same time, the fast-growing school system has been faced with the need for more classrooms at some schools and even entire new schools.
In a general email sent to those who subscribe to the school system’s email lists, Superintendent Eddie Tyler said school officials were “grateful beyond words.”
“Today’s unanimous vote by the commission shows the importance of this long-term fix. Baldwin County has a lot of issues to address as we face amazing growth, but this one has been resolved with today’s action,” Tyler wrote.
The penny tax was scheduled to expire in May 2018, but Gruber said the decision needed to be made early enough to satisfy any legal requirements and ensure that there was no disruption in the flow of revenue.