HANCEVILLE — After retiring into executive session Thursday to discuss possible pending litigation, the Hanceville City Council emerged not to litigate, but to produce what amounts to a strongly-worded letter.
Those strong words came in the form of a resolution, passed on a 5-1 roll call vote, that voiced the council’s displeasure with a recent push by the Cullman County Board of Education to urge a countywide half-cent sales tax — a tax to help fund school security upgrades, along with a centralized, $30 million multipurpose sports complex.
Earlier this month, the school board successfully persuaded the Cullman County Commission to approve the half-cent tax, which will be levied on all retail transactions throughout Cullman County.
Although Hanceville’s resolution opposing the tax measure was aimed at the entire county school board, it specifically named county school superintendent Shane Barnette and school board member Kenny Brockman, who represents Hanceville’s schools on the board. Attempts to reach Barnette by phone Thursday following the meeting were unsuccessful.
A municipal executive session is allowed by state law when names, character, and some litigation issues are in question. Hanceville council member Kim Brown, who is principal of Vinemont Elementary School and an employee of the Cullman County School Board, cast the lone vote against the resolution Thursday.
An animated Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail said following the meeting that litigation against the school board may not be off the table, describing the resolution chiding the board Thursday as a first step — one that could lead to future steps, depending on how the board, and perhaps the county commission, respond.
“I think there may well be other things that come to pass in the future,” said Nail. “I hope and pray that the people involved in making this decision will reconsider. I can’t say what this may lead to. It ain’t a done deal yet, and we’re going to fight this tooth and nail.”
Nail said that all of the unsolicited feedback concerning the county sales tax that he’s received from Hanceville residents, as well as other municipal and community leaders countywide, has been negative.
In passing the resolution, Nail and at least four council members agreed on three main points of opposition to the measure. Here is a summary of the resolution’s statements, which express the mayor and council’s opinion in objecting to the countywide half-cent sales tax:
• That it funds a new, centralized project at the expense of critically needed repairs and upgrades at Hanceville and other county schools.
• That it has the potential to draw local economic activity away from the several small communities where county schools are located, as well as Wallace State Community College.
• That the tax was, in the council’s opinion, improperly conceived and proposed to the county commission, in haste, with no opportunity for the proposal to receive a public airing ahead of its approval.
“We were never asked about our opinions,” said Nail, himself a 1982 graduate of Hanceville High School. “There was no public hearing or community input about this tax, or what it was meant to fund.
“For years and years and years, our school facilities at Hanceville have been getting by, having to use stopgap measures as workarounds for some basic, basic needs and shortcomings at our schools. And the holdup has always been the same: The school board doesn’t have enough money,” he continued.
“Why are our children in Hanceville still attending a school in one of the oldest school buildings in this county; built in the 1930s; where we’ve known for years that there’s a basement still locked up and closed because of a mold problem that developed years ago? The basement’s still there, and it’s still locked, and I imagine the mold is still spreading. There’s no cross-ventilation in the hallways — none whatsoever — and here our children are, in the halls of a building that was already old in 1969, back when I started school there.
“But we’re going to tax people, unannounced, to raise money to help build this $30 million sports complex? That’s wrong, plain and simple.”
The Cullman County Commission approved the new half-cent sales tax on March 12 at the county school board’s request, following a school board resolution, passed earlier the same morning at a specially-called meeting, that requested additional funding from the county.
The commission explained at the time it passed the sales tax that the tax was intended to fund safety and security upgrades throughout the county school system. One week after the March 12 meeting at which commissioners offered that explanation, the county school board announced the $30 million sports complex. The sales tax is set to expire after 15 years.
The complex would be located on a 58-acre tract off Alabama Highway 157. According to the school board, it would include an indoor recreation facility, a football field, a tennis court and other sporting facilities and amenities.
The March 19 announcement of the county sports complex came one day after the Cullman City Council announced its own planned $18-20 million indoor complex through Cullman Parks, Recreation & Sports Tourism. The city has been working on that project for nearly four years.
Barnette has previously explained that the county complex will be a revenue generator for county schools, and will have initial funding from 15 percent of the half-cent sales tax for education, as well as money from the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, which collects a portion of lodging tax.