Faced with a common civic problem — the need for new revenue — the Jacksonville council approved a 1-cent sales-tax increase last Monday night. That alone is a headline in Alabama, a state where tax increases are as popular as Troy Trojans lettermen at a JSU football game.
Bravely, the council members didn’t let that unduly influence their thinking. After ample deliberation, the council OK’ed the increase, putting it in effect starting Nov. 1. Starting then, Jacksonville will have a combined 10-cent sales tax, the same as Oxford. Anniston’s and Piedmont’s sales taxes remain at 9 cents on the dollar.
Get used to it, too. Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith predicts this 1-cent addition is here to stay. “I would be real surprised if it ever came off,” Smith told The Star.
Now, of course, comes the hard part. We wish the Jacksonville council luck.
Like most cities, Jacksonville has needs. Two stand out: the Police Department and the city schools. The JPD is in a situation similar to the one in Anniston; its offices are housed in a small, aged building that the department has outgrown. Jacksonville isn’t bursting at the seams, but it is a burgeoning college town with a rising population that isn’t likely to level off in the next generation.
The JPD needs a new public safety complex.
But here’s the dilemma. The Jacksonville public school system suffers from the Alabama malady. State funding has been slashed in recent years, and the need for local authorities to make up some of the difference — if they can — is immense. Thus, the city’s Board of Education and others have urged the council to split the new sales-tax revenue 50-50 between schools and the public safety complex project.
That’s a reasonable proposal we wish the council had selected.
Problem is, the council didn’t buy into it. Members instead OK’ed the increase without setting parameters on how it will divvy up the windfall. Clearly, that’s not the automatic even split the school board wanted. But in this case, the council’s logic has some merit. Final estimates for the cost of the public safety complex aren’t in, and waiting until those figures are solidified isn’t a horrible idea.
Our concern isn’t that the council will make a boneheaded decision. Instead, it’s that this tug-of-war between the police department’s needs and education’s needs will divide the town, officers on one side, teachers and parents on the other. In some Calhoun County cities — namely Anniston, where political strife is as commonplace as kudzu — we’d expect roiling turmoil.
In Jacksonville, which normally embraces political decorum, we expect this to be a tough decision that’s sternly debated. Jacksonville residents should expect the council to help both sides, and to do so fairly.