Last month, city of Orange Beach officials followed an ongoing trend in Alabama of municipalities forming their own school system, independent of the county system in which their local schools are currently situated.
The newly formed Orange Beach city school system will officially be independent of the Baldwin County system on July 1.
During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon explained the decision. However, in doing so, he criticized how the state allots funding for local schools, which he said penalizes communities "for being wealthy".
"The first thing we had to come up with is how do you pay for it because in this equity system in the state of Alabama, which I abhor, you're penalized for being wealthy," Kennon said. "And what that means is you're going to get less money from the state, so you've got to fund it yourself, which to me is about as un-American as it gets in my humble opinion. I tell folks I will never apologize for being wealthy. We work very hard creating a great product down here.
"I would have to apologize for not spending the revenues wisely. And I think investing in the school and investing in the future of our kids and the quality of life it brings is a great investment. I also believe from a business perspective, as we improve our schools, we will be nationally recognized at some point. Property values go up and again, quality of life goes up. The community improves as the camaraderie comes around. So, we think it is the right thing to do by our conscience and it's a good business move. And to pay for it, we're going to go up on lodging tax by 3%, which would match Gulf Shores' 3% increase, which would generate for us in today's market about $10-12 million."
Kennon said the additional funds generated by the tax increase along with what Orange Beach gets from the state would put the city in a position of having a significant surplus over current operating expenses and debt services. Kennon said that city leadership feels good about the finances of it, that no taxes are good but sometimes officials must choose the lesser of evils. He said in this situation, officials are hoping that the quality of life, the education, experience and property values of what the community represents will counter that increase in tax.
Kennon said if it did not work out to the satisfaction of his constituents, he and the city council would be held accountable by the voters.
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