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Voters OK taxing in Limestone County for Madison schools

Voters statewide have approved a 10.5 mill property tax increase for Limestone County residents who live within the Madison city schools district, even though voters in the county rejected the measure.

A check of unreported precincts in the unofficial count Friday showed the ballot issue known as Amendment Three passed statewide with 50.4 percent “yes” to 49.6 percent “no.” There was a less than 8,700-vote margin of approval out of more than 1.1 million votes cast.

The amendment was soundly defeated in Limestone County, where more than 61 percent voted “no.” But it passed under a state law that only required a majority vote statewide for it to become law.

An almost identical amendment was on the ballot as a local amendment in 2004 and was defeated because it failed in Limestone County. This time, supporters of the tax — designed to end a tax disparity affecting two counties — made it a statewide amendment, with the local vote not the deciding factor.

Madison City Schools Superintendent Dee Fowler said it was important this year for the measure to be offered as a statewide amendment because of doubts that it could pass in Limestone County.

Property owners in Madison County who live in the Madison city school district have been paying the tax, but those in Limestone County who live in the district have not.

“All we sought to do was equalize the taxes for everybody in the school system,” Fowler said Friday.

The tax, which will now be paid by all residents of the school system in both counties, will go to fund one of the state’s fastest growing school systems. Located in the western suburbs of Huntsville, the system has more than 8,400 students, including 2,100 at Bob Jones High School, which has the largest enrollment in the state, according to the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

The bill setting up the tax vote was sponsored by state Sen. Tom Butler, D-Huntsville. Butler did not answer phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Limestone County Probate Judge Mike Davis said he believes supporters of the tax knew it would have a difficult time passing in Limestone County because of the results of the vote four years ago.

He said Limestone County residents were concerned that by passing the tax, the city of Madison would be able to impose future tax increases without a vote of Limestone County residents inside the city.

“The concern is whether the Limestone County residents would have a voice in Madison,” Davis said.

Fowler said the new tax will mean the owner of a home valued at $300,000 will have to pay an additional $315 a year or about $26 a month in ad valorem taxes.