If past voting history is any indicator, Fairhope Councilman Robert Brown believes a 3 mill tax in the Fairhope High School feeder pattern stands a great chance of passing.
“The last referendum that was put out for the millage continuance in Baldwin County to go to the Baldwin County school system passed overwhelmingly in all four districts where Fairhope registered voters attend,” Brown said. “There was 63, 65, 67 and 70 percent approval rating of the 3 mills at that time.” It was defeated in a countywide vote.
Another vote to add 1 mill to the property taxes for schools countywide also got 63 percent or more approval from Fairhope precincts, but failed countywide as well.
“Fairhope has a proven record of supporting the schools,” Brown said. “And with this referendum for the money to go directly to our Fairhope schools, I feel pretty good.”
In its March 7 meeting, the Fairhope City Council approved a resolution endorsing the effort to have a referendum on the 3 mill tax. During a work session on Feb. 25, council members in attendance — President Jack Burrell, Kevin Boone, Jimmy Conyers, Mayor Karin Wilson and Brown — all indicated they would support the resolution. Councilman Jay Robinson did not attend.
“After that the city will have to get 200 signatures from registered voters within the city,” Brown said. “At that point the city will take the petition with the 200 signatures and the resolution passed by the city, and forward it to the school board. The school board will vote to recommend it, hopefully, and pass it on to the County Commission, and the commission will OK it for a referendum for the feeder pattern of Fairhope.”
Brown said the Education Advisory Committee (EAC) has been working on this concept for the past few years.
“To me it could be a game changer for generations in Fairhope if we get the 3 mills,” Brown said. “It will produce close to $2 million annually for our five schools.”
Ken Cole, chairman of the EAC, told the council at its Feb. 25 work session that initially the money would be used to raise reading and math scores. Cole presented results from a 2015 audit of Fairhope schools to study what’s needed to make Fairhope one of the top 10 schools statewide.
“They recommended we increased spending on classroom instruction and instructional support,” Cole said. “That’s key. One way you can do that is create a special tax district that follows the borders of Fairhope High School’s feeder pattern. The 3 mill increase that we are recommending would generate approximately $1.8 million per year that would flow to our five schools.”
Cole said the city now contributes about $350,000 a year to schools in Fairhope. He said the new tax would generate more than $360,000 for each school. It’s estimated the new tax will add about $90 for homeowners in the district. The district will sunset in 30 years, requiring a new vote to extend it.
Brown said the goal is to have the referendum in September.
“I’m just trying to get the taxpayers to understand the importance of this and let them come out and vote,” he said.
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