Baldwin County voters will see a pair of familiar tax proposals on their primary ballots as the county school system asks the public to renew two existing school taxes previously rejected by voters along with a push for additional property taxes last March.
At the time, voters went to the polls to vote on a hike in ad valorem rates the school system said would have funded a $350,000 capital campaign for the system. Not only did voters overwhelmingly reject the new taxes, they also voted down the renewals of four mills of existing property taxes. Those tax renewals will reappear on the March 1 ballot as separate initiatives.
Voters are asked to consider countywide one-mill and three-mill property taxes the school system says have been levied for nearly 100 years. The combined four mills, which come up for renewal every 30 years, represent about $16 million in funding for the system.
If the taxes are not approved, the system would fall short of the 10 mills it must levy in order to participate in the state’s equity funding program. In the event the taxes are rejected, the Baldwin County Commission will have the authority to levy up to 10 mills to prevent an equity funding loss. The county school system receives about $143 million from the equity funding program.
Recently John Wilson, Baldwin County Schools’ chief financial officer, told Lagniappe 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.”
Opponents of the renewals, like the Citizens for Government Accountability PAC, are calling the millage levels new taxes instead of renewals because voters rejected them along with new taxes last March. Proponents of the taxes, like Baldwin County Board of Education president Shannon Cauley, maintain the millage levels are not new taxes, but rather the same taxes that have been on the books for years.
“There is some misinformation out there, but these are definitely not new taxes,” Cauley said. “These taxes have been levied for a long time and they are necessary for keeping us at the current operational funding level.”
Cauley, serving her first term on the board, is also facing a challenge for her District 7 seat from Daphne area businessman Chris Francis, owner of Chris Francis Tree Care. The district covers Spanish Fort, Loxley, Silverhill, part of Daphne, Malbis and some unincorporated areas in between including the Plantation Hills, Bay Branch Estates and Historic Malbis neighborhoods.
Francis is campaigning on a platform that includes greater transparency efforts and a raise for the county’s teachers; he has pledged never to vote to raise taxes while in office.
Cauley recently told Lagniappe she is looking forward to another term on the board, where she hopes to be able to manage growth in District 7 and in the system as a whole.
In District 4, which represents the Foley High School feeder pattern, Janay Dawson is running unopposed to replace the retiring Norm Moore.