Jefferson County voters will decide Tuesday whether to grant Homewood an exemption from the state’s lid bill, paving the way for city residents to approve a property tax increase in a later vote to fund schools. “The bottom line is that citizens should be able to control their own tax base through a vote of the people instead of being micro-managed by the state legislature,” a website the city launched to publicize the vote says.
The 1971 lid bill caps a city’s property tax rate at 1.5%. Cities like Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Huntsville are exempt because they had property tax rates higher than the “lid” prior to the bill’s passage.
Homewood officials wanted the referendum for the primary purpose of improving city schools, where local funds come from property tax. School Superintendent Bill Cleveland says the city wants the option to raise taxes, but adds there are no immediate plans for an increase.
“If we wait until we need an increase to have this law changed, that will be too late,” Cleveland says.
A “yes” vote on the November 6th ballot is a vote in favor of Homewood receiving an exemption from the bill.
Homewood resident Erik Henninger, who has lived in Homewood for 13 years and has a first and third-grader at Hall-Kent Elementary, supports the amendment. Municipalities such as Vestavia and Mountain Brook have been able to pull in additional school funds through property taxes. Henninger says Homewood would be more competitive if allowed an exemption. He worries residents will confuse the vote as a required tax increase.
Ryan Reardon has lived in Homewood for 18 years and has two children — one graduated from Homewood High School and one attends Homewood Middle. He has seen significant growth throughout the city over the last two decades and says he’s more than willing to contribute towards bettering his community. The local amendment came to his attention weeks ago and he stands behind it. He hopes that other Homewood and county voters will see the local amendment as a way to give the city the ability to fund its future as opposed to a tax increase. He wants Homewood to control its own fate rather than lawmakers in Montgomery.
The Homewood Board of Education allocated about $250,000 to publicize the referendum. Director of Communications Merrick Wilson says the board has been pushing this bill for several years through parent-teacher organizations and to the general public in mailouts and yard signs. Superintendent Cleveland has made videos advocating the exemption on social media.
If voters reject the amendment, Wilson says it won’t prompt drastic changes at city schools. Homewood is renovating five schools, and that work won’t be affected regardless of the outcome Tuesday. The vote is more of a preemptive measure, she says.