Athens city residents vote down proposed property tax

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - Athens city voters took part in a special election on Tuesday for a proposed property tax increase. Leaders with Athens City Schools said the money raised would help build new schools for the district, as well as pay for upgrades to existing schools.

The unofficial results are:

  • 3,368 people (62%) voted no on the 12-mill tax increase, 1,924 people (35%) voted yes.
  • 2,907 people (53%) voted no on the $74 million dollar bond issue, 2,163 people (40%) voted yes.
  • There are 66 provisional ballots the Board of Registrars will have to verify and tabulate.

Roughly 12,000 registered voters living in city limits were eligible to participate in the election. Unofficially, 5,445 people turned out to vote, which is more than 45 percent of registered voters.

"They've spoken loud and clear," said Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay. "Even though it's disappointing in a lot of ways, especially whenever you have outside people come in. But our goal is to teach kids every day and take care of kids, so we'll be able to continue to do that."

City residents rejected the proposed 30-year, 12-mill tax increase to build and improve city schools. If approved, property taxes would have been raised by $1.20 for each $1,000 of assessed property value starting in 2016 and ending in 2045. This property tax increase equated to personal property owners paying an increase of $120 annually for each $100,000 the property is valued. Commercial real estate owners would have paid a $240 annual tax increase for each $100,000  of valued property. The tax increase would also have affected vehicles and personal property used commercially.

Residents also voted down a proposal to borrow $74 million. The school system would have gone to the bond market for the $74 million, in order to start construction right away. The property tax increase would have paid off the bond.

The facility upgrades for the school system included building a new high school and elementary school, turning the high school into the middle school, improving at least four other city schools and adding safe rooms at all of the district's schools. School officials said nearly every building in the system is at least 50 years old, some nearly 75.

"We'll find a way to make something happen," said Holladay. "It won't be to the scale that we wanted, but we'll find a way, someway."

The special election came under fire earlier this week. Opponents to the increase accused the school board of wrongful campaigning.

State auditor Jim Zeigler said his office received four complaints against Athens High School officials. His office said those complaints were related to school officials using public resources to campaign for a “yes” vote.

School leaders said there was an account separate from the school system that parents and other community members used to raise money in support of the tax increase. That account, they said, is what was used to purchase signs placed throughout the community.