Chelsea votes ‘No’ to proposed property tax for school system

Published 8:13 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

CHELSEA – Just more than a year after it was brought to their attention, residents of the city of Chelsea have made their decision on whether or not to approve a 12.5-mill property tax in the city to fund a city school system.

After a day at the polls on Tuesday, July 12 the city’s residents voted no to the proposed millage increase, meaning the property tax will not increase and no school system will be created.

Out of the 14,982 residents in the city, the official results posted to city hall showed 3,663 residents voted in the election with 3,196 voting against the proposed tax and 467 voting for the proposed tax. According to the city, 34 percent of registered voters voted in the election after the city had never had 25 percent or more in any other election.

With the decision, Chelsea will remain part of the Shelby County School system rather than forming its own school system.

The city will continue to pay its 44 mills of property tax to Shelby County, but no additional city tax will be levied moving forward, which makes them one of three municipalities in the county without a local property tax. The others are Indian Springs and Westover.

“As a Chelsea resident and grandfather, I am disappointed that the vote has turned out as it has,” Chelsea Mayor Tony Picklesimer said. “However, the people, my neighbors, have spoken. As the mayor of Chelsea, I will move forward with the decision that has been made by our citizens to continue in the Shelby County School System and to partner with the Shelby County Board of Education to make our Chelsea area schools the absolute best they can be by utilizing the 1-cent sales tax that we currently collect for the schools.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks shared his thoughts as well, saying he was pleased with the turnout.

“We are pleased that the majority of residents in Chelsea placed their trust in the Shelby County School District to continue to provide excellent educational opportunities for their children,” he said. “While we understand the desire that some Chelsea city leaders and residents had to create their own district, we look forward to partnering with them again to make sure that our schools in Chelsea are the best that they can possibly be. This includes our commitment to providing the very best instructional resources, hiring quality teachers, staff, and administrators, as well as investing in future capital improvements.”

The 12.5-mill tax was approved for a vote at a Chelsea City Council meeting on May 3, which set the vote for July 12 to determine the outcome.

The council first announced a study to determine if a school system was feasible a year and one month earlier on June 15, 2021, hiring Criterion K12 Consulting LLC to perform the study relating to the possible formation of an independent municipal school system for the city.

The study looked at available tax revenues and identified any additional revenues needed to support a new school system in Chelsea.

The city was originally planning for 20 or more mills to be added, but ultimately settled on the 12.5-mill increase, which Criterion said would be enough to start a school system.

Council members Cody Sumners and Casey Morris both submitted an alternative to the 12.5-mill property tax that could take advantage of other resources while utilizing the 1-cent sales tax and Shelby County Schools.

The proposal came in an April 27 press release that detailed why a property tax was not needed and how they could move forward.

In addition to requiring no additional taxes on Chelsea residents, the proposal calls for the city to utilize available funds from the current 1-cent education sales tax and current city bonds issued in October 2021.

Following the vote on Tuesday night, Sumners said he was excited to move forward and help make Chelsea’s schools the best they can be.

“I’m glad we can put this behind us and move forward to try and work on the division that has been created in our community,” Sumners said. “I’m looking forward to partnering with the mayor, the rest of the council and the Shelby County Board of Education to make our schools even better.”

The following are other points Sumners and Morris listed in their proposal:

  • Leverage the current 1-cent education sales tax in the bond market for improvements/renovations at the current schools in the Chelsea city limits. (The current 1-cent sales tax brings in yearly revenue equivalent to 10 mills of property tax; approximately $2.2 million a year. These sales tax proceeds could easily fund bond issuances yielding up to $30 million for school projects.)
  • The schools would still belong to the Shelby County Board of Education, and they would still make regularly scheduled upgrades. All additional funds from the city of Chelsea bonds would be for additional upgrades and renovations to the current schools to address concerns regarding the current facility needs as outlined by citizens and council members.
  • A citizen board would be established to work with local school administrators to determine needs and priorities for the schools.
  • The citizen board would then prioritize projects for the schools in the city limits of Chelsea.
  • The citizen board would make a presentation/request to the SCBOE to proceed with agreed-upon projects.
  • SCBOE would be responsible for all aspects of the construction.
  • No funds from the bonds would be transferred to SCBOE until requested for each project, when an invoice is received from SCBOE.
  • This proposal would not require any additional tax from the citizens of Chelsea and would allow for much-needed facilities upgrades/renovations in a much timelier manner than the current proposal for a property tax increase.
  • This would allow all funding to go towards facilities issues, which have been identified as the only issue with the schools.
  • The current proposal for a property tax is primarily to cover administrative costs. This proposal does not duplicate services and allows all funding to go directly where it is actually needed.
  • This proposal would allow the city to help bring the schools up to the expectations of the citizens of Chelsea, so that when the city is in a more financially viable place, it can revisit the city school issue, and the schools will already have received the needed renovations and upgrades.
  • Additionally, under the mayor’s plan, the current 1-cent sales tax would no longer be available to fund current projects like the Nick Grant program.

Sumners said the hope is for them to be able to move forward with their ideas, but it will ultimately be up to the mayor.

“He has to put things on the agenda, but I’m hoping that will move forward so we can use that 1-cent sales tax the way it was meant to be used,” Sumners said.

The mayor echoed his sentiment in his statement after, saying now that the city has spoken, he looks forward to seeing what they can do for the schools.

“I look forward to seeing the work of Councilman Casey Morris and Councilman Cody Sumners as they move forward with their alternative plan to improve the school facilities in our area,” Picklesimer said.