Huntsville City Council moves ahead with property tax proposal

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A property tax proposal that's being called "hard to explain" is moving forward in Huntsville. After a public hearing Monday, the city council approved a resolution that pushes it forward for lawmakers in Montgomery to introduce.

That would authorize a special election to pass it on for a vote of the people, and Mayor Tommy Battle said he is confident they will find support for it.

What is the Proposal?

Mayor Tommy Battle said the plan would essentially rewrite or correct the tax code in the city to make it more equitable, ensuring that people in Huntsville city limits (no matter what county they live in) will pay the same amount of property taxes.

It would replace what Battle called "old" language, some of which mentioned Huntsville being in Madison County. He said that portion would need to go because Huntsville has now annexed Limestone County and Morgan County and the city didn't want to allow it to be unclear who would pay to support the schools.

"Without this happening, we just wouldn't have clarity on the tax," Battle said. "We've already been through one lawsuit where Limestone County and then the three systems in Madison County were in a lawsuit because there wasn't clarity in the law. We want to make sure that as we clarify the law, we can make sure the school board understands what is their tax base and what they can use for revenue to run the school system on."

This comes as Huntsville City Schools is trying to figure out its finances and where they stand following a multi-million dollar accounting error last year.

Battle also added Monday that under the proposal, three property tax amendments totaling 15.5 mills would be eliminated, consolidated into one amendment totaling 15.5 mills, and introduced into the Legislature to get approval for you to vote on them in a special election sometime this year.

"It is nothing more than, we are deleting 15.5 mills of property tax and reinstating 15.5 mills of property tax. They pay no other taxes than what they are paying now. There are no net new taxes to the taxpayer."

You can read more about the plan here.

"It literally took us about a month to understand the implications of it. To go back through all of our constitutional laws and look at our Constitution. It was written in 1901, and figure everything out with it-- it's convoluted and hard to explain in a 45 second news story," Battle said.

But Battle said it's something the people need to understand. The city and school system are planning to get them there.

"The school board is looking for some certainty in their funding," he stated. "They plan out, just like we do, we plan our spending ten years ahead. They're doing the same thing."

No one came to directly speak out against the proposal at the proposal's public hearing Monday.

What's Next?

A legislator will need to introduce a bill for lawmakers to approve a special election on the issue before this Legislative session ends.

"They will be able to approve a vote of the people and that will bring it back to us where we have to set the date," Mayor Tommy Battle said.

He believes that there will be support to move it on.

"As long as you're doing something that has no net new taxes on it," he said, "most people will look at it and say, 'Hey, this is a correction.'"

It is unclear when the special election would be, but Battle said possibly sometime in November. It would have to be separate from any other election in November because of requirements for the date being on the second or fourth Tuesday. The upcoming elections are on the first Tuesday, ruling them out as dates to squeeze this onto a ballot.

Whenever it is, Battle said he wants the public to be ready.

"We want to make sure we are doing it at an optimum time when people are in and they have been able to look at it and understand it," he said.

Battle is also confident there will be support in the community for the proposal.

"We have been fortunate. People in this community have supported education time and time again," he said. "They have validated votes on education and educational property taxes twice while I've been in office. I think they will, especially when they understand there is no new tax."

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