Council reinstates full school funding

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
During a lengthy and sometimes heated Russellville City Council meeting Monday, council members unanimously voted to fully reinstate funding to the city school system, but still remain split on whether or not a tax increase is needed to make this possible.
In front of a packed city hall crowd filled with teachers, administrators, city residents and curious onlookers, the council again split 3-3 on the tax increase vote. Mayor Troy Oliver and councilmen William Nale and Jeff Masterson are in favor of a tax increase while council members David Grissom, Lanny Hubbard and Gary Cummings oppose the tax.
"This is just not the right time to add taxes," Cummings said at one point. "We are in the middle of the worst economic crisis of any of our lifetimes."
Throughout the three-hour meeting Monday, council members exchanged views with audience members, many of whom are school system employees.
There have been two separate issues involved with the recent discussion as to whether or not a one-cent sales tax increase is needed in Russellville. The city has yet to pass a budget for the new fiscal year and is currently looking at a $900,000 shortfall.
The second issue involved relates to the amount of money the school system receives from the city. Historically, the city has given the school system 38.33 percent of sales tax revenue. In 2005, the city capped that amount at $1 million a year.
Earlier this year, the current administration voted to begin issuing the 38.33 percent of revenue again if funding was available.
City schools superintendent Don Cox told council members that he could not build a budget based on the wording "if funds are available."
"I can't budget if I don't know what's coming," he said.
He urged the council to permanently reinstate the 38.33 percent funding.
Throughout the three-hour meeting audience members challenged the council to fully fund the school system. Some asked for the additional one-cent tax to be added.
"I don't want to lock down anything if the funding isn't available," councilman Lanny Hubbard said.
The council later voted unanimously to reinstate the 38.33 percent funding level.
With that issue now settled, the council must now find a way to pay those funds and maintain the city.
Councilman David Grissom said that he has contacted the University of North Alabama's Center of Public Policy and Economic Research about conducting a study concerning the economic impact that a one-cent sales tax would have on Russellville. He expects that study to be complete by the next council meeting.
"If they say that a tax is what's best for the city of Russellville then I will be the first to change my vote and support it," he said.
Out of 17 proposed budgets, the city still expects a $900,000 deficit because of decreased sales tax revenue. Oliver estimated that the proposed 1-cent sales tax increase would add an average $105,000 in revenue per month.
Hubbard, Grissom and Cummings argue that all avenues have not been looked into.
"This is the first thing that was thrown at us," Hubbard said.
City resident Allen Rorer said that he would support the tax increase if the council could find no other solutions, but he is concerned that no other options have been considered.
Masterson said Monday's actions were important for the city and the school system.
"With the sales tax increase voted down again, it was important to get the resolution passed guaranteeing the schools 38.33 percent of the current sales tax," he said.
"They can take our projected sales and move forward with plans for their fiscal year. Their amount should be approximately $1.34 million for this year. While this no way solves their problems, at least it permanently restores the percentage that the schools were built upon.
"You know, this debate has been good for Russellville. It has got people involved and voicing their opinions. We've still got our work cut out for us hammering out a budget, but at least this gives us a starting point."

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