The recent rise and fall of Cullman County’s half-cent sales tax for education opened a proverbial can of worms, far beyond the politics and missteps of how it came and went.
There is no doubt that a half-cent sale tax, initially proposed for 15 years, holds promise of funding to help with structural and safety concerns at campuses across the county. The revenue generation during the proposed life of the tax amounts to roughly $60 million for county schools and $18 million for Cullman City Schools.
But, today the money is gone. Gone before even a half-cent was collected.
However, the issues that have risen during the past six weeks, or made their way to the surface, are still being debated and likely not going away.
In the course of public and private comments made as officials wrangled over the cat-and-mouse tactics surrounding the tax, two topics deserve discussion going forward – the possibility of school consolidation and expanding the county commission from three to five members.
Good Hope Mayor Jerry Bartlett twice talked about the need and sensibility of consolidating schools. While often viewed as an unpopular topic, he quietly earned deserved praise for stepping up with a voice of reason.
Bartlett’s point is simple. Even with an influx of new money, how much longer can old buildings be bandaged? Most agree, there comes a time when throwing good money at recurring problems makes no sense.
Two points must be carefully weighed concerning education funding: the changing economic world demands schools be technically advanced; and how will future education funds be invested to create immediate and lasting value.
On the county commission structure, the three-member system is long outdated. The county has too many people to continue to use a form of government that’s been abandoned across Alabama and nationally.
The cloaked decision to implement a sales tax only to toss it to the side a few weeks later shows flaws of the current system. Models for successful commission expansions are abundant statewide.
It’s time to begin in-depth dialogue on what’s best for this generation and those to come concerning education, and, in particular, the number of schools. And, at the same time, a strong look at a new form of county government needs to be placed on the table, sooner rather than later.
Remember, change, especially the kind that is somewhat uncomfortable, is typically good and opens opportunities for future success.