Debate grows between Jackson County Commission, Board of Education over bond extension of Innovation and Career Academy

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JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. – There was intense back and forth between Jackson County commissioners and the Board of Education Monday afternoon.

The school district could potentially save close to a million dollars, through a bond extension, but the commission is hesitant.

Shoppers in Jackson County currently pay nine cents in local sales tax. Two cents is guaranteed to go to education until 2039, thanks to a bond signed back in 2014, but the school board is hoping to get the bond extended another 12 years so they can potentially save $900,000 due to low interest rates.

“This two cents for education has been in place for many years. It’s not us asking to borrow money. The commission is not giving us extra money for this project. It is just an agreement that nobody will try to touch that that we already get through 2051 rather than 2039. That is a long time but investing in our children’s future and our future, to me, is well worth it,” explained Superintendent Kevin Dukes.

While the commissioners said they support educational growth, in this case, of the creation of the Innovation and Career Academy, they are also hesitant to extend the bond.

“I think it’d be a crown jewel in not only Jackson County, but North Alabama, maybe even the region for education education. I do support this project and want to see it move forward, but I don’t want our kids traveling on dirt roads to get to it,” said Interim Commission Chairman Jason Venable.

“We want this project to go forward, it’s just I’m a young man but 2051 is a long, long way off, and so I don’t want to shackle not only our hands but the hands of potentially seven commissions,” added District 3 Commissioner AJ Buckner.

Venable is hoping to work out a plan with the school board to adjust the bond so the county could receive a portion of the two cents education is getting.

The county does not get any funding from local sales tax, only internet sales tax (SSUT), property tax, and TVA in lieu of taxes.

“We’ve had multiple conversations about our desire to have sales tax. I think that’s one reason the county has not done as well in a lot of areas that it could have because the county government hasn’t seen fit to take dollars that they could be paving roads with, to put towards projects, to help industry and tourism and sewer projects, stuff like that. We can’t take dollars that we should be paving roads to do those types of things unless we’re seeing a return on it and we don’t see a return on it unless we get sales tax or property tax. Most of the time when it’s economic development, property taxes are abated, most of the time when it’s economic development, property taxes are abated outside our control. We’re fertilizing somebody else’s garden all the time. We’re not getting to reap any of the harvest ourselves,” added Venable.

However, Dukes said SSUT tax has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic while local sales tax has decreased.

“People are buying off of Amazon. They’re doing grocery pickup and paying online. They’re buying food and having it picked up and doing everything through a credit card online. Well every bit of that money is internet sales tax, the SSUT, we don’t get that. So their revenue is going up because of the SSUT and even thought we’re at an all time high as far as the economy goes, our numbers are dropping because less people are spending money actually in these businesses,” added Dukes.

The commission said more time would be needed to discuss should a major topic, but there is a time crunch as work on the Innovation and Career Academy goes out to bid Feb. 18, 2021.

“The way we read it, it can’t be changed. But even if we were in agreement to come off of some of that, that is money taken away from our schools and our students. Two on top of that, it would have to go through another process. You would have to go through legislative delegation,” said Dukes.

There are still many questions still including can the 2014 bond even be altered to give the county a cut of the two cents and how could the Innovation and Career Academy be impacted should the commission not extend the bond agreement.

Either way, Dukes told News 19 he remains optimistic about the future of the project.

“If they choose not to approve the resolution, our current resolution goes through September 30, 2039, so we’re looking at other possible options. We’re looking for plan b in case plan a doesn’t work and a plan c in case those others don’t work,” explained Dukes.

Commissioners are meeting with school board leaders Thursday, Feb. 11 at 3:30 p.m. to see if they can reach an agreement.

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