1. Why are some families allowed to send their children to Jacksonville City Schools even though they live outside the city limits, and are they paying taxes for it?
A federal judge redrew school district lines to bring about integration and included in the Jacksonville district was a pie-shaped wedge outside the city limits, to the southeast. A judge later lifted court-ordered integration, thereby freeing Jacksonville schools from federal supervision unless the school board made major changes, like moving district lines by any means except annexation, according to a former school official.
Property taxes paid by residents inside the city limits go to Jacksonville schools, but property taxes paid by residents who live in the county go to Calhoun County Schools. That means property taxes paid by residents who live outside the city limits, but inside the school district, are being sent to the county system even though their children attend Jacksonville schools.
Those county residents in the Jacksonville district are still paying other taxes, like sales taxes, that help pay for the bulk of public education.
2. Why does the city want to annex more land?
• Growth. City officials have said they think that more people will move to Jacksonville, and they want to be sure the city can accommodate that growth.
• Fairness. Because the city has developed unevenly there are islands of unincorporation in the city, and some homeowners and business owners who benefit from city services are paying less in taxes than their neighbors who are inside the city’s limits. By filling in the gaps and expanding, city officials say they can be sure everyone who is receiving city services is paying their fair share in taxes.
• Funding. By bringing more residents into the city, Jacksonville will redirect property tax revenue to the schools now, and position the city to collect even more tax revenue in the future. That’s because officials expect developers to eventually build more homes on annexed land, increasing the value of property and the amount of property tax paid.
3. How will residents now living just outside the city benefit from annexation?
• Voting privileges. If annexed into the city, residents could vote for the mayor, council members and school board members.
• Cleanliness. If annexed into the city, residents could call on the city if their neighbors’ properties get out of hand.
• Property value. City officials said annexation is likely to increase residents’ property values. An area real estate agent said bringing homes into incorporated communities usually protects their value.
4. What would those residents give up under annexation?
Zoning. City officials say if annexed, residents would be subject to the city’s zoning rules, which are used to enforce standards that keep communities clean and safe. Zones, in turn, limit some land uses. Five of eight city zones allow for some agricultural development, and the city can create new zones. According to a fact sheet from city leaders, Jacksonville will allow residents who are annexed to continue using their land as they do now.
City officials also said that while residents would be able to use their land as they always have, they would be subject to the city’s property maintenance rules right away. That mean that people who keep junk cars outside their homes, or excessive trash around their property, could be called on to clean it up if annexed.
Calhoun County has no zoning rules restricting property usage, but it does have an environmental enforcement officer to respond to individual complaints regarding unsightly or unsafe situations.
5. Who’s going to decide whether this happens, and when?
State lawmakers. In late December, the City Council asked state legislators to support a bill that would enable the expansion, a move that would give the lawmakers final say on whether Jacksonville can expand its borders. Rep. K.L. Brown said he thinks the city’s annexation bill will be introduced sometime after legislators convene for their next session in early March, but, he said, the bill can’t move forward until city officials have completed a few more formal steps.
Those steps include writing a legal description of where the property lines will fall, and publishing the bill in a newspaper for four weeks.
As with most legislative bills focusing on local issues, Jacksonville’s proposal by custom needs support from all lawmakers representing Calhoun County. If passed, the bill would likely become effective on October 1, according to a city fact sheet.