Decatur Schools asking about alcohol tax

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 14, 2014
City Schools of Decatur Board of Education during its July 8 meeting. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

City Schools of Decatur Board of Education during its July 8 meeting. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A question raised by a Decatur School Board member about an alcohol tax collected by the city has led to a behind-the-scenes debate about whether the schools should receive any of the money.

The city of Decatur says the city schools aren’t entitled to a portion alcoholic beverage excise tax, which brought in $435,000 in revenue in Fiscal Year 2014. The city estimates the tax will bring in $455,000 in Fiscal Year 2015.

Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold said in an email to CSD that, “the City collects an alcoholic beverage excise tax on beer, wine and liquor from wholesale beverage distributors and an excise tax on liquor from retailers.”

Finance Director Susan Hurst, who used to work for DeKalb County Schools, said the county received a portion of the beverage tax. She said it could amount to “a teacher or two” for the school system.

City Manager Peggy Merriss said there’s nothing in the law that requires the city to give any of that money to the schools.

“We provided information to (City Schools of Decatur) that we were not aware of any legal requirement or authorization to distribute the alcohol excise tax to the school system,” Merriss said. “The excise tax is different from the independent school system ad valorem tax which is provided for by state statute. Also, of the taxes that are explicitly identified in the Georgia Constitution and State Code for funding schools, alcohol excise taxes are not included.”

Board of Education member Lewis Jones first raised the question.

Emails obtained by Decaturish show Hurst asked about this on June 23. Hurst said when the city replied that CSD wouldn’t be able to receive any of the money, she turned the question over to the School Board attorney.

CSD attorney Bob Wilson said he’s continuing to investigate why the school system isn’t eligible to receive any of the money.

“It’s a good question,” Wilson told the School Board at its July 8 meeting. “I think it’s going to have a complicated answer. It is one of the more interesting questions we’ve been asked in a while. It involves a legal history and a factual history in terms of the relationship of the school system and the city.”

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