Sales tax questions

Shane Barnette, facing crowd at right, answers sales tax questions from a sparse crowd at Tuesday evening’s community meeting in Hanceville.

HANCEVILLE — A small crowd turned out at Hanceville High School on a rainy Tuesday evening to hear Cullman County Schools superintendent Shane Barnette make his sales pitch for a one-cent countywide sales tax increase that’ll appear before local voters on the ballot next month.

A year after the county commission approved a short-lived sales tax increase that it quickly rescinded following public backlash, this year’s second attempt marks a way to put the decision in voters’ hands, with complete information from county school officials about how the money would be used, before the issue appears as a referendum.

Under the proposal, sales taxes throughout Cullman County would increase by one cent, including inside municipalities like Cullman and Hanceville. In turn, both the Cullman County and Cullman City school systems would receive their proportionate share, with the county school system estimated to take in an additional $10 million per year in funding.

Barnette said that money would be used to improve security at all county schools, as well as to fund new building construction and rehabilitate older facilities badly in need of renovation, repair, and modernization.

At Hanceville, that might include construction of a new location for Hanceville High School as a top-floor addition to a planned career technical center near Wallace State Community College, as well as added classrooms at Hanceville Elementary, which has seen its student population increase markedly in the past five years.

Other areas of immediate need that teachers and administration have recently identified at Hanceville include repairs to the high school football stadium, an overhaul of the 1930s-era Hanceville school facilities erected during the Works Progress Administration, and other projects that, said Barnette, would be informed via the community’s input.

Of particular concern at Hanceville, which is about to move up in size from 3A to a 4A, as well as at other county schools is lunchroom overcrowding, as increasing student populations vie for table time at facilities that already are filled through most of the school day.

“One of the problems we’re experiencing all over our county - and it’s one that people don’t see — is that that our kids are going to lunch from 10 in the morning until nearly two in the afternoon,” Barnette said. “Our lunchrooms are packed, and they’re very outdated. We’re having to start serving lunches so early in the day just to get all of our kids through.”

Former Hanceville Elementary principal Kim Brown, a 1986 Hanceville grad (and current City Council member) who now serves as the principal at Vinemont Elementary, said she’s hopeful that voters will approve the tax increase.

“Absolutely, I’m 100 percent in favor of it,” she said Tuesday. “I have grandkids in the county school system — and even if I didn’t, all the kids I’ve taught deserve the very best. All of our kids do. I have a granddaughter in the city system, and I want these same things for her, too.”

With a current annual budget of approximately $104 million, Barnette said between five and seven percent of that figure is allotted to capital improvement and facilities maintenance. That translates to no more than $7,280,000 spread across all the county schools’ campuses. A $10 million infusion generated by a sales tax increase could jump-start new construction, but, as Barnette noted, any talk of ambitious building projects hinges entirely on voters approving the tax.

“Our schools are as good as they are right now because we have dedicated staff…because the people of Cullman County are so passionate about what they do. They take care of the facilities; they take care of our kids.

“But if this sales tax doesn’t pass,” he added, “we can’t build anything anyway.”

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