To the Advertiser-Gleam:

I attended last week’s Public Hearing on increasing the city’s ad valorem (property) tax. The activity was a sham, the reason was a falsehood and the process was a joke.

It was not to provide information, hear public input, nor respond to public questions and concerns about the tax. It was a forum the city gave to the School Board to satisfy the legal requirement before codifying a predetermined action concerning the tax. That action was not only pre-decided weeks ago but also finalized without even being read.

I have never been to a public hearing by a governmental body where it was actually administered by a second party. The mayor opened the hearing without stating the full reason for the tax increase. She limited each citizen to 3 minutes even though very few people were going to speak. Questions were not answered as asked.

Instead, the mayor deferred all answers until the end of the short hearing and had the School Board representatives answer them. Questions about the decision on why a 9 mill levy, how much money was needed, sunset end to the tax, who could vote on the tax increase, and all other questions should have been answered by the Ccity since it was their hearing on a tax they wanted to impose on their citizens. But, the city had not been educated on any of these subjects. Instead, the School Board answered them in terms most favorable to the Board’s position including being untruthful about who would be affected with the tax increase.

All but one of the public speakers were either teachers or from the School Board. They, nor the mayor, even knew the actual age of the current high school. It was not built in 1970. I graduated Guntersville High in 1971 and our class never set foot in the current school. It opened in 1972.

Only one citizen other than me asked a question. It was if the tax increase would apply to senior citizens. That answer came at the end of the hearing, too. It was muddled in with other School Board talking points as to be obscured. And, yes, every property owner in Guntersville will get the increase in property tax. Age and homestead exemptions do not apply to local property taxes, only state property taxes.

When I tried to get the Board representative to answer my actual question instead of what he wanted to say, I was cut off by the mayor. The public was not allowed to interfere with the proceeding of the public hearing, even to correct the School Board’s slanted, non-responsive answers.

Through careful listening, I got the true story. The tax is NOT to build a new high school. It will be used to pay towards a bond issue debt of unknown millions of dollars against the city. The bond sssue money will be given to the School Board to do any and all capital improvements to all of the schools however they wish to use it.

They even let slip in the meeting that $15 million is needed fix or improve the other city schools. They do not know how much a new high school will cost but knew a 9 mill tax increase would meet their needs – whatever they are or become. No one mentioned how much money 9 mills would bring in each year or if it did not meet the payments on the unknown bond issue.

After the mayor closed the public hearing, they went on to vote on a resolution to send something to the state legislature to ask permission for Guntersville to conduct a vote on the tax increase. The actual resolution was not read and may contain anything about the tax, money needed, or whatever. Secrecy is the best policy when a sham activity is conducted.

After the hearing, but still within the Council meeting, I finally got to ask my question again. Earlier, the School representative had said if I did not reside in the city it would not affect me. (Even though I stated I had property in the city.) This time, the representative changed his answer.

At the end, I asked the mayor: “So, people living in the city that do not own property can vote to raise my property tax but I, owning property in the city, do not get to vote because I live out of town?”

She laughed and said, “That’s the way the Alabama law is.” That was very unprofessional and demeaning to me and the dozens of other property owners in the same situation.

This entire situation has been a farce so far. The School Board has been crying for a new high school but has not decided how much it will cost. They have not been honest about the additional $15 million they will pull from the bucket of money or where it will go. The city has not mentioned the bond issue nor how much it will be. Seniors and fixed income citizens paying more in property tax has not been mentioned.

Only one thing was stated clearly. A member of the school system said, we told you we would be back for more money when we did not get the full 1 cent sales tax increase so here we are. At least we know who is in charge of the city.

Larry Sortor

Scant City

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