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City leaders plan education funding increase, master plan development

 Riverchase Elementary students
Riverchase Elementary students

Increasing education funding and getting starting on a master plan are key priorities for the city in 2017, new Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato and city council members say.

As of press time, Brocato was still working on his 2017 budget recommendation for the council, but he said it will include a significant increase in funding for schools.

He wasn’t ready to announce a number, but “right now, we can double what we’ve been doing. I’m very comfortable saying that,” Brocato said.

Currently, city funding for the school system is about $2.5 million a year. The council in December 2015 also agreed to start paying the full cost of school resource officers, which is about $1.7 million a year, instead of half.

Brocato said he expects to find extra money for schools in the existing revenue stream and does not foresee a tax increase. 

“That’s the very last thing we want to do,” he said. “Before we would look at a tax, the citizens would have to be knocking on our doors, saying we want this tax to fund X, Y, Z.”

Some residents have proposed a one-percentage point sales tax increase for schools, but Brocato said he hasn’t heard a huge outcry for that.

Revisions to a Jefferson County sales tax approved by the Legislature in 2015 should provide an extra $2 million to $2.5 million for Hoover schools each year, so that should take some of the pressure off the city, Brocato said.

The mayor said he also doesn’t expect the city to return to a set percentage of city sales tax revenues going to schools. In fiscal 2004, that amount was 16 percent. In fiscal 2016, 16 percent would have amounted to $11.4 million.

A fixed-dollar amount is more likely, Brocato said. 

“We’re going to a commit to a number, and we’re going to do everything we can to stay with that number,” he said. “They are a part of our city that needs to be taken care of, just like any other department in our city. If there’s a need and we can fill that need without seriously compromising something like public safety, we want to fill that need.”

Hoover Council President Gene Smith if the school system’s needs exceed the capability of the city’s current revenue, city officials will need to look for new revenue sources, such as a small sales or property tax increase. If the city were to start charging residents for garbage service, that could free up $7 million, Smith said.

However, Smith said the council is waiting on the mayor’s budget recommendation. Both he and the mayor said the city once again will start having public hearings regarding the budget. This will allow the council and the public to hear requests from department heads, Smith said. In recent years, the council has only received the mayor’s final budget recommendation and did not get to see what requests were left out of the mayor’s budget, he said.

Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy said she has been meeting with Brocato to discuss budget needs. She understands the city has many responsibilities other than schools but is pleased that city leaders have expressed a desire to increase school funding. The city may choose to earmark some contributions, but “money is money,” whether it’s set aside for a particular purpose or given to use with discretion, she said.

Brocato said he hopes to have a 2017 budget adopted by the end of January.

Brocato and Smith also said the city will get moving on a master plan in 2017. The mayor said he foresees hiring a professional planner to assist with that effort. 

The city will get input from the community and staff, but “I’m not going to have this 20-person committee to try to get it done,” he said.

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