Gardendale Resident Files Class-Action Lawsuit Seeking Return of Property Taxes Meant for City School System

Gardendale school sits near the park in the heart of the community. (Source: Robert Carter)

A resident of Gardendale has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and Jefferson County alleging that property taxes are being collected illegally for the city’s efforts to form its own school system.

Wilson F. Green of the Tuscaloosa law firm Fleenor and Green filed the suit Friday on behalf of Jay Campbell and others who have paid property taxes in Gardendale since the city school tax began to be collected in 2014.

The suit alleges that the 10 mills of property taxes collected by the city to fund the proposed system are now illegal, since a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the city’s effort to form the system earlier this month.

Alternatively, if the court finds no fault with the Gardendale school tax, the suit asserts that the county’s 8.8-mill property tax for schools has been collected from Gardendale property owners illegally, since Alabama law prohibits double taxation for schools.

The suit asks that the tax revenues collected so far and held in escrow be paid back to taxpayers.

The lawsuit states that the city enacted the taxes — 5 mills through a vote of the City Council and the other 5 mills as a result of a referendum approved by voters — specifically for operating the new municipal school system.

Campbell’s suit says those funds have been used to pay for a central office staff and its expenses for a school system that has yet to operate any schools, and is currently prohibited from doing so. Money also has been used to pay “lawyers to prosecute a catastrophically, and now finally, unsuccessful effort to form a splinter district,” the suit alleges.

The suit asks the Jefferson Circuit Court to hold the escrow funds until the lawsuit is settled.

The Gardendale Board of Education has publicly declared its intent to fight to overturn the appeal ruling that struck down the school system. It has 21 days after the publishing of the ruling to request an en banc hearing before all judges in the 11th circuit; that deadline is March 6. The board also has 90 days to request a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, and it could file for both hearings at the same time. The board has yet to announce which path it will take.

The initial documents filed in a lawsuit show only the plaintiff’s side of the issue.

Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland declined comment Friday afternoon.