The gnashing of teeth over Anniston’s proposed 2015 budget is warranted. An across-the-board budget slash of nearly 6 percent is painful. It’s no paper cut. It’s the real deal.
Annistonians have every right to recoil. But they also should examine one of the most telling facts in The Star’s coverage since City Manager Brian Johnson unveiled the proposed budget on Monday.
It’s all about sales tax.
The proposed budget for fiscal 2015 is $35.6 million. Of that, $20.5 million comes from sales-tax revenue — a regressive, inconsistent stream. Worse still, City Hall projects a steep reduction in sales-tax receipts this year, a difference of $268,000 less than last year. And Alabama being Alabama, where tax increases of any sort are heresy, abysmally low property taxes give cities and the state little choice but to hang their financial hat on the ebb and flow of sales taxes. When times are good, city finances are swell. When downturns occur, city finances tank.
In other words, Anniston’s finances are trending in the wrong direction.
Hear that, Eric Basinger?
He’s Anniston’s new economic developer, and he hasn’t even had his first day on the job. (That comes in early September.) Gurnee Avenue has charged Basinger with pumping life — any life, any way, and fast — into the city’s retail, commercial and industrial base. It’s not merely about giving Annistonians a new restaurant or store. It’s about injecting cash into the city’s coffers.
From what we’ve seen, Johnson and Mayor Vaughn Stewart understand Anniston is suffering from a severe lack of revenue diversity. We commend Johnson and the City Council for reinstalling the gasoline tax (which should have been collected anyway) and starting the stormwater runoff fee (which is needed). Those new revenue streams won’t save the city’s bank account, but every dime helps.
It’s painful to admit, but Anniston is reaping what its former leaders have sown. Harbor no doubts that the city’s incoming economic developer has one of the most important jobs in town.