At the called council meeting, Council President James McGowan and Council Members Sharon Thomas and Jay Jenkins voted yes while Council Members Terry Templin and Dot Wood voted no.
Under the new agreement, the BOE would receive 30 percent of the revenue generated from the 2010 1-cent sales tax increase from 2014-2020. After Oct. 1, 2020, the city would provide the school system with 50 percent of the revenue generated from the 2010 sales tax increase only if a school voting district is not formed and the people living in the school district do not vote in favor of additional funding for the school. Per the agreement, the city will also share the cost of setting up a new school district with the school system.
Mayor Joe Funderburg and each council member spoke about their reasons for voting yes or no.
“I have decided to take the heat from some of the people in Pell City, many of them who voted for me in the election,” Templin said. “I will support what is best for Pell City and all the people, by taking back this tax April 2014. It will allow us to meet our obligations, which is going to increase nearly one million dollars starting 2014 through 2020.
“The library and Wellness Center are more important than an eight million dollar sports complex that will only benefit a few. It is time to learn what is a need and what is a want. It is time to support our senior citizens and children with a place to improve their quality of life.
“The library has 14,360 members. In December, the computer usage was 2,325 hours. We have seniors driving to Talladega to use their aquatic center to improve their health. It is crazy for anyone to increase their debt by eight million dollars just for sports; the school board debt is now over thirty million dollars. The only item I see that is a need is a roof and windows for Duran Junior High; the rest is a want.
“The total debt for Pell City and the Board of Education is one hundred and twelve million dollars,” he said. “I hope the people of Pell City will understand why I have great concerns for our financial condition. We need to get a handle on this debt load.”
Wood said she concurs with Templin on this issue.
“I want to thank my constituents for all the calls,” she said. “I may be disappointing some, but will be making others happy. My calls were about 3-to-1 not to give the school the tax money.”
Thomas said she supports the school system.
“We have a good school system,” she said. “It is one of the first things people look at when they move into a city. That’s why I’m for it.”
McGowan said he echoed Thomas.
“I think it’s a great need for our school system and think we should do it for them and support it,” he said.
Jenkins said he hopes no one in Pell City will say they don’t support children and the school system.
“I think everyone supports the school system,” he said. “But I think some things were not taken care of initially, including the equity of people attending who don’t live in the district—52 percent of the students don’t live in our city limits. It’s wrong; inherently wrong (taxation without representation).”
Jenkins said he thinks officials kicked the solution further down the road instead of dealing with it.
“They put a Band-Aid on it,” he said. “We proposed a solution to the problem that will fix the situation. I agree with Terry and Dot—there are so many needs in the city. But the school system is critical to the city. I’m going to vote for it on one condition—when we start to work with the new school district, I hope you are just as passionate about a new school district as you are getting the tax money. We will get it done and it will be a win-win.”
Funderburg said he has supported putting money in classrooms for teachers and students since day one.
“What concerns me is the flippancy of the school board members about spending millions on a sports complex,” he said. “The students depend on computers from the library. If we shelve our things in favor of a 6A school, it is not helping the most number of people.”
Funderburg said he spoke with Pell City schools Assistant Superintendent Michael Barber.
“It was a good meeting,” he said. “I appreciate the concerns and needs. We aren’t going to bail on you. If this money isn’t spent prudently, we will take it back. We are all stewards of the city of Pell City’s money and represent all people in Pell City. Nice signs and a pretty sports complex are good, but education and prudent spending are the most important things.”
Barber said it was a historic day between the Pell City School System and the city to work together for the common good of all the students in the school system and the citizens of Pell City.
“This partnership will meet the needs of the school system and help us keep the programs that we have while helping us meet future needs,” he said. “This ultimately is part of our operation budget—this money helps pay salaries and keep existing programs in place such as the JROTC, art and music and others.”
Barber said when the school system first began receiving half of the 1-cent tax hike in 2010, there were needs brought on by proration.
“For three years, we suffered the worst proration in the history of the school system,” he said. “We lost more than $5 million in funding over a three-year period. If we hadn’t gotten half of the 1-cent tax hike, we would have had to cut our operational budget, which means cutting programs. Thanks to the half-cent, we were able to keep all of those existing programs in tough economic times.
“We are here to say thank you to the mayor and council for investing in the future of the school system,” he said. “We thank the mayor and council from 2010 who implemented it, and the current mayor and council for continuing it. We pledge to continue working as partners with the mayor and council for the common good of the school system and the city.”
Barber said strong partnerships benefit everyone.
“We look forward to working with the city in the future to meet the terms of the resolution,” he said. “This is a big day for us. Anytime the city invests in the school system, it’s exciting, encouraging and appreciated.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.