Some facts about what's at stake Dec. 9

Published 12:56 am Monday, December 1, 2003

By Staff
After reading one or two recent newspaper editorials and hearing a few comments from local citizens, I realized that some information has not reached all the voters.
There is no doubt that school systems throughout Alabama have lost state funding during the past four years, impacting how schools deliver services to all children.
Escambia County is at a point where we cannot allow the deficiencies of state funding for local schools to negatively impact our children for the rest of their lives. We are only voting on one issue Dec. 9, but the information surrounding that issue can seem complicated.
There are many factors affecting a school system's budget. The Brewton City School Board and the Escambia County School Board did not come to the decision lightly to ask the citizens of Escambia County for additional revenue. Asking a community for money is not easy. The legal process is long and tedious.
We have waited on the state to solve its funding problems but that has not happened.
We know we cannot afford to wait any longer. At the end of this school year, the Escambia County School Board expects to have a fund balance under $500,000, which is less than one week's payroll for them.
Even if this tax passes, the Escambia County School Board will be forced to borrow funds to begin the next school year until the majority of the tax revenue is received.
This fiscal year, Alabama's education budget received one-time bail out money from the federal government to ease but not relieve the current problems. This will not happen again. That is why we know next year's allocation from the State Department of Education will be severely reduced.
In order to create some equity between poor school systems and wealthy school systems, Alabama adopted a Foundation Program. To participate in this state education funding program, every school system subtracts the value of 10 mills from their budget. That amount varies from system to system based upon the property values within the county. In return, the State Department of Education gives every school system the same amount of money for each student enrolled in its system. The problem for the Escambia County School Board is that only seven mills, not 10 mills, are collected for education.
To receive state funding, the Escambia County School Board must subtract the value of three mills from another source of funding such as the oil and gas severance tax. This year the amount from local revenue is approximately $685,000.
Every time property is reappraised the problem increases, because the value of three mills goes up. The Escambia County School Board is forced to find more local revenue to meet the state requirements.
A major local revenue source, the oil and gas severance tax, has dwindled by approximately 75 percent in the past 20 years.
In effect, property reappraisals cost the Escambia County School Board, local oil and gas severance tax revenue is decreasing, and state funding for education is experiencing severe problems.
All these factors endanger our quality of public education in Escambia County and accordingly, the quality of life for our citizens.
The Foundation Program would help to equalize the educational funding for all students in Alabama if all school systems collected the same number of mills for education.
Because Escambia County School System receives seven mills for education, it is penalized. Brewton City Schools collects 12 mills of education taxes and benefits at the value of two mills.
School systems such as Mountain Brook, Homewood, and Vestavia, which receive more than 45 mills of education property taxes, benefit greatly from property reappraisals and provide excellent opportunities for their children. People who argue that increased property taxes for education will be detrimental to businesses need to explain the prosperity and success of these communities.
Only one school system, Wilcox County School System, collects fewer mills for education than the Escambia County School System. Out of 128 school systems Brewton City Schools ranks 72nd by collecting 12 mills for education. The question must arise. Which of the above school systems do the people of Escambia County aspire to emulate?
In 2002, if you owned a home worth $100,000 then your seven mills of tax for education was $70 for the year, less than $6 per month. That's how much public, K-12 education received from you.
You most certainly paid other mills of tax for state, county, and city governments, but $70 is all that the school system got based upon the value of your home. Of course, as I previously explained, the Escambia County School Board must contribute an additional $30 because only seven mills of education tax are collected.
In 2003, if your home reappraised at $120,000, a 20 percent increase in the value of your home, then your seven mill tax increased from $70 to $84 for education, which is $7 per month for education. Of course, the Escambia County School Board would have to contribute an additional $36 because not enough mills for education are paid by our citizens. So you paid more, but the reappraisal increase did not directly help the Escambia County School System.
Brochures showing the education tax increase for homes and vehicles have been printed and distributed throughout the county and in many of our churches. Businesses are assessed at 20 percent, or double the homeowner rate.
In addition, land assessed for timber and agriculture will increase by approximately 50 cents per acre per year. If you were to own 200 acres of farmland, you would pay approximately $100 more per year for education, less than $9 a month increase for education.
Of course, property taxes are deductible in reporting federal and state income taxes so the actual amount paid is even less than the minimal amount I am indicating. If you have not seen a brochure, the math is simple enough to do on your own because you're multiplying by .001.
If your home is worth $100,000, then you'll pay $100 more a year on your residence. If your home is worth $50,000 then you'll pay $50 more a year on your residence.
We do not want there to be any surprises. We want you to ask questions and be part of the discussion. However, if you share information with the public we want it to be factual, not incorrect hearsay or supposition.
This is an important issue. Actually, it is a critical issue. I cannot predict the future for Escambia County's economy. However, one thing is certain.
If the public schools decline, businesses will have an almost impossible time moving an employee with a family to Escambia County. People who are living here will want to move somewhere else because of the loss of educational opportunities.
Whether or not you have a child in school, these statistics will affect you as far as businesses that are available to you, the number of people contributing to city and county services, and the value of your home.
Your school board members live in the areas they represent on the school boards, and they are interested in seeing you at board meetings. Several meetings have been held at various locations to encourage participation.
The last two meetings where the education tax has been discussed have not been well attended by the public.
If you have questions about the education tax vote on Dec. 9, call our school superintendents, Mr. Buck Powell (867-6251) or Mr. Lynn Smith (867-8400).
Let's all work together to provide great educational opportunities for our children. Remember to vote "yes" on Dec.9, and tell a friend.
Mrs. Stephanie Walker, President
Brewton City Board of Education

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