The debate over agreeing to a measure presented by the Jackson County Board of Education to extend a 2014 agreement that has the Jackson County Commission supplying their 2% of sales tax to the county's two school systems continued Thursday.
The measure was presented to the commission during their Monday, Feb. 8 meeting.
Dr. Kevin Dukes, the superintendent of the Jackson County School system, had requested the agreement, which currently extends from 2039 to 2051. Dukes was not present at the meeting on Thursday.
Currently, of the 2% sales tax collected in Jackson county 33% of this revenue is given to Scottsboro City Schools and 77% of the revenue is given to Jackson County Schools.
"We want to support and help grow," said Commissioner Jason Venable.
Throughout the meeting, Venable advocated for working with the two school boards to find an equitable way for revenue sharing. The vice chairman also expressed concerns about potential legal rulings in the supreme court that might further endanger the county’s ability to raise revenue.
A case challenging a local law in Morgan County that has redirected Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT) which covers online sales. The case outlines whether or not a local law implemented by the legislature can divert funding away from a county and instead to education.
This would allow similar laws to be sponsored in the state legislature. If enacted this would leave the County Commission with even fewer revenue sources.
Venable expressed that the current system was not going to be touched, though he emphasized that some kind of trade of revenue was in the best interests of both the county commission and school boards in the county.
Venable had initially suggested a "trade" of an equal portion of SSUT for the sales tax the school boards already receive. This would allow both entities to diversify their revenue streams while seeing equal or greater revenue.
“We want to share the SSUT tax,” stated Venable, “that’s part of the reason we didn’t want to obligate the full two cents.”
The vice chairman made it clear that the commission was not trying to decrease any funding for education.
"We have done a lot to try to spur that growth," said Venable, who advocated for working with the two school boards to find an equitable way for revenue sharing adding, "But, we want to be a player to be a part of that."
Venable, and commissioners A. J. Buckner and Kevin McBride all made statements during the meeting affirming their support for efforts made by the Jackson County School Board to invest in resources for STEM education.
However, the commissioners noted that their ability to see a return on their investments is limited, and if the supreme court removes their ability to retain SSUT the commission will be further stunted in its ability to help continue growth in Jackson County.
"We cannot make decisions now that will tie our hands for years to come," said Buckner. "We as a county must be self-sufficient and unified."
A resolution was introduced by Venable that would send two letters requesting a guarantee from the school boards that they would agree to return any SSUT tax gained by the school system. In return for such an agreement the county would sign the order resolution as presented by Dukes.
Dr. Jay Reyes, superintendent of the Scottsboro City School System, said that while a 100% delivery to the county of SSUT is unlikely and described any such measure as an "extremely hard sell" to his board.
However, Reyes added that there would be a possibility for a conversation between the Scottsboro City School System and the commission about a different split dependent.
“It would be hard for me to go to my board and say that the state supreme court has ruled that you get 100% of the SSUT, and then turn that over to the county.”
The county’s lack of involvement in the sales tax, and subsequently questionable financial state, has been a hot topic of conversation since the Commission signed the 2014 agreement allotting its sales tax to the two school districts in the county.
“In 2014, I’m the only commissioner that was here when we voted that in and that’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made since I’d been on the commission,” said Venable in relation to the 2014 agreement. The commissioner added that if he had known what he knows now that he would not have voted for the measure.
As no agreement was reached, the commission approved a motion to continue the meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 3:30 p.m. Commissioners hope that letters sent to the two boards of education will be discussed prior to this time.
Reyes said that it is likely the Scottsboro City Schools Board of education will meet Feb. 15 to discuss the issue.