David Peterson said he has been involved in politics for about 24 years, but his largest role was in 2010, when he put thousands of miles on his truck driving around Baldwin County in an effort to oppose the so-called “rain tax.”
At the time Peterson started his first Political Action Committee, David Peterson PAC, in an effort to defeat the controversial House Bill 58.
The PAC received $3,765 in contributions in 2010 and ultimately the “rain tax” was defeated by a wide margin in a countywide referendum later that year.
Now Peterson has returned, ramping up efforts to defeat the millage renewals for Baldwin County schools on the March 1 presidential primary ballot.
The PAC shares its name with the Citizens for Government Accountability Facebook page, which had 673 members as of late last week. The page’s membership is a cross section of municipal and county government officials, elected state officials and community activists mixed with people who Peterson says are concerned about government transparency.
“We aren’t a group that is against all government spending, but we are for responsible spending,” Peterson said. “Most taxpayers are OK with government spending if they are able to trust that the government will spend the money wisely. But the way we are going, we have to make some changes if we are going to survive.”
In its January 2016 financial report, the PAC reported $1,888 in total cash contributions from five sources. The largest donation was $1,000 from noted anti-tax businessman Kevin Spriggs. The PAC received $250 from Gary Taylor and $100 apiece from Vincent Belluci, J. Dale Phillips and Milton C. Wilson.
“This is a real grassroots, citizen-led effort,” Peterson said. “We are going to be involved. We are funded by the little guy and represent regular people.”
School system officials are asking voters to renew a total of four mills of funding in Districts 1 and 2 that were rejected by voters, along with additional new millage levels, in a referendum last March.
Peterson, who has been affiliated with Baldwin County’s Common Sense Campaign tea party in the past, said if the renewals are defeated, the county will be able to make up for the lost revenue because of increases in tax revenues from other sources.
Currently, taxpayers are levied 12 mills for schools in District 2 and 10 mills in District 1. According to information provided by the county, the millage levels due for renewal date back to the 1920s. The three- and one-mill rates on the March ballot were last levied in May 1987 and only appear on a ballot every 30 years.
Citing Baldwin County Commission minutes from Jan. 17, 1957, Baldwin County Schools Chief Financial Officer John Wilson said the one- and three-mill renewals have been approved, levied and collected since long before 1941.
“The constitutional provisions were first ratified by Alabama legislators in 1916 for the three mills, with the one mill predating that date,” Wilson said. “The records show that these are not new taxes and have been the foundation of funding for the Baldwin County School System for close to a century.”
Figures in the Baldwin County school system’s Community Task Force funding report show the system projected $11,884,149.20 in 2016 funds from the three-mill District 2 tax. In District 1, the system projected $3,968,677.20 from the District 1 tax. In total, the system receives $47,602,244 from ad valorem tax revenue per year. According to the county revenue department, one mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent, so one mill of $1,000 is equal to $1.
If the renewals are rejected, District 1 would fall to nine mills and District 2 would fall to eight mills, but the Baldwin County Commission has the authority to levy 10 mills in taxes in order for the school system to participate in the state’s revenue-sharing program for schools. So, a renewal rejection would equal an $8 million funding loss for the school system.
In District 1, citizens pay 10 mills for the district’s school rate, 6.5 mills in state rates, 9.5 in county rates and an additional 2 mills for hospitals for a total of 28 mills. In District 2, citizens pay a total of 30 mills.
In the county’s incorporated areas, citizens pay 28 mills to the state, county and schools and additional millage to their municipality. Those who live in Fairhope and Daphne pay the highest municipal rate at 15 mills tacked on to the mills owed to the county. Bay Minette’s millage rate is only slightly lower at 14.5 mills of property taxes. Residents in the small north Baldwin County community of Perdido and those in Orange Beach pay the lowest rate at just four mills.
Additionally, the county’s 1 percent sales tax first approved in 2013 will be up for renewal in 2018. Officials say that tax brings in $32 million per year. The school system receives 2.5 percent of sales tax revenue for approximately $80 million in funding each year.
Peterson said additional taxes make an impact on the budgets of people living on a fixed income.
“I am retired and living on a fixed income just like a lot of people here,” Peterson said. “Just like a lot of people I know, I’ve had to make some hard budget decisions about what I spend my money on. I have to do what I can to survive on a limited budget.
“Our main mission is the education of the public,” he continued. “We want to get all the facts together so voters can be informed about what is going on before they head to the polls. We want people to know exactly what they are voting on before they cast their ballot.”
This story was edited Feb. 11 at 3:45 p.m. to clarify that if the millage renewals are rejected by voters, District 2 would fall to eight mills instead of nine.