With a special referendum less than a week away, the proposed tax increase for Baldwin County Public Schools remains a hot topic of discussion and resurfaced again during Monday night’s Fairhope City Council meeting, where the City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of the tax.
Over the last three years, the Fairhope City Council has invested about $1 million in Fairhope schools, and Councilwoman Diana Brewer said she hoped other communities in Baldwin County could “take a page” out of Fairhope’s “playbook” and try to copy what has been accomplished for schools in the Fairhope community.
“I hope we’re setting a good example,” she said.
The City Council as a whole continued its support of the public school system by passing the resolution to back a 7-mill renewal of property tax in addition to a newly proposed 8-mill increase, which would create an additional $28.6 million in annual revenue.
The resolution stated “that the City Council supports the March 31, 2015 ballot measures to increase property taxes in Baldwin County by 8-mills for public schools; and also encourages its citizens and all of Baldwin County to vote for the renewal of the expiring 7-mills ad valorem tax and to vote on the 8 additional mills ad valorem tax which will be used exclusively for the capital needs of the public education system of Baldwin County.”
“I’m in favor of supporting our Baldwin county schools,” Mayor Tim Kant said. “That’s what we’re here for – supporting new schools.”
BCPS officials maintain the additional revenue would stay in Baldwin County and be earmarked for building and maintaining facilities to accommodate the school system’s growing student body.
The tax increase would extend over the next 30 years and draw in $350 million to sustain the school system’s 10-year capital improvement plan, which would fund construction for new elementary schools in Bay Minette, Daphne and Gulf Shores, in addition to a new Gulf Shores High School. In a more long term plan, the school system said there is potential for the creation of a new Belforest feeder pattern, including new middle and high schools, as well as a new feeder pattern in Spanish Fort’s “Golden Triangle,” with the potential construction of new middle and high schools.
For Fairhope specifically, the capital plan’s “immediate needs” within the next one to three years includes renovation to the K-1 Center downtown, which will reopen for the first time since the school system closed its doors in 2011, and a 20-room addition to Fairhope High School. In three to five years, the plan calls for an addition to Fairhope Middle School.
With support from members of the Fairhope Education Advisory Committee in attendance, two citizens spoke before the council in support of the tax increase, and despite growing contention and controversy surrounding the tax referendum countywide, no one spoke in opposition.
While Council President Jack Burrell said he understands the opposition, he affirmed his trust in the elected officials chosen to represent the school system and urged others to support their decisions along with the teachers backing the referendum.
“I don’t think he’s going to propose something that’s detrimental to our school system,” he said of BCPS Superintendent Robbie Owen, who was present for the duration of the council meeting. “ … if they say it is necessary, it must be necessary.”
However, Brewer took a moment to challenge the public school system and noted a disagreement with an open letter sent out last week by Baldwin County Board of Education President Norm Moore, which accused opponents like “Educate Baldwin Now” and the Common Sense Campaign Tea Party of seeking to destroy the school system’s reputation.
“I would like to challenge our school board because this is a lot of money we’re entrusting you with — a lot of money — and I would like to challenge our school board to set the bar a little higher,” Brewer said, specifically citing Moore’s use of the word “adequately” in his letter.
“I want better than adequate, I want excellent,” she said.
After the vote, Owen addressed the council to thank them for their support and clarified the use of “adequately” in Moore’s letter by saying the school system is not attempting to build “Taj Mahals” or go “overboard” with new facilities but simply do what’s adequate and cost efficient to provide the best and safest environment for students.
Prior to the council’s vote, Christopher Baker of Thompson Engineering unveiled results of a study conducted throughout the city of Fairhope, which surveyed questions related to various citywide concerns like building height, parking garages, remodeling the city’s civic center, traffic, intersections, internet connection capabilities and education.
According to Baker, questionnaires were sent out to 9,000 residents, and of the 1,800 responses, 86 percent said they were in favor of continued contribution to the public school system.
“It’s a pretty loud statement, I believe,” he said.
In other business, the council approved a resolution to authorize Kant to execute an extension of a contract with BioMagic, Inc. for sewer department chemicals with an estimate product cost of $215,496.01.
The council approved the purchase of sweeper/vacuum for the golf department through the National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance, which does not require bids, for approximately $21,669.62.
The council also made several appointments to various boards, including the appointments of David Dyson and Jeffrey Davies for three-year terms to the Tree Committee, Tony Pritchett and Ron Allen for four-year terms to the Fairhope Environmental Advisory Board, and Anabeth “Abby” Dunlap for a three-year term to the Museum Advisory Board and Allison Knight for a four-year term to the Library Board.
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