Welcome to Oxford

Traffic moves past the Oxford city limits sign on Front Street on Tuesday afternoon. Redrawing thousands of Anniston's residents into Oxford would have a big impact on both cities. 

This could be Oxford, circa 2024.

Group pushing for Ward 4 to exit Anniston

Eight people sit on the City Council, five from before AGS — Annexing Golden Springs — and three former Annistonians. Among them is Millie Harris, who represented Anniston’s Ward 4 before a poorly titled nonprofit, Forward 4 All, sought state Sen. Del Marsh’s help and forced Oxford to gobble up nearly half of Anniston’s population in a de-annexation land grab worthy of eternal condemnation.

The Oxford Police Department is much larger than it was before AGS. Patrolling from McIntosh Road to north of Choccolocco Road takes more officers, more fancy equipment and more money.

The Oxford Fire Department now has more than 60 full-time firefighters and a new station on 10th Street Mountain.

Golden Springs Elementary is now part of Oxford City Schools, whose teacher roster has swelled. The Donoho School and Faith Christian School have Oxford addresses, whether they wanted them or not, as does Gadsden State’s Ayers campus.

The “Leon Smith Parkway” portion of U.S. 431 now extends well past Henry Road. Somewhere, he’s smiling.  

All of that is supposition, by the way, hypothetical-yet-informed examples of how the Forward 4 All draft bill could rock this part of the world. And while everyone is rightly mulling the potential fallout from an Anniston implosion, the asymmetric effect on Oxford is just as compelling.

Take politics, for example.

Oxford’s five council members are elected not by wards but by non-geographic places. In the unlikely event of the Forward 4 All bill becoming law, Oxford politics would endure an overnight rewriting in which former Anniston residents — new Oxford residents — would not only vote in Oxford elections but also run for Oxford offices. Some would inevitably win.

We can “what if” this to death, but even Oxford Councilman Mike Henderson agreed Wednesday that the enlarged city likely would add council seats and — these are his words — that having politically active former Annistonians eligible for Oxford elections would be “very awkward” and that “I don’t think a lot of our current citizens would be OK with that.” He’s correct, by the way. Oxford bonafides are valuable in Leonville.

“That would be one of the concerns I would have,” he said. The former Annistonians “would have a significant impact on elections in Oxford. I don’t see that as beneficial to Oxford.

“I’m all for working with Anniston. Mayor Smith had an issue with working with Anniston, but I think that’s in the past. We’re willing to work with any city that’s willing to work with us. But I don’t think we want Anniston people telling Oxford people what to do.”

Thus, a conundrum:

When would “Anniston people” annexed into Oxford become “Oxford people”? Is there a test? A secret handshake?  

Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard politely frets about logistics more than politics. Oxford schools would need more teachers but funding would be problematic, especially in the first year. She’s fine with population growth, but the details matter. “We don’t want to bring Anniston people in and not give them good services,” she said.

Take law enforcement, for example.

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge’s rough estimate is that he’d need to hire “10 or more” new officers to adequately patrol a city with more than 30,000 residents that would stretch, south-to-north, just above Munford to above Henry Road. Lord knows how much that would cost in salaries, benefits, training and gear.

Take fire protection, for example.

Thirty-nine firefighters work full-time for the Oxford Fire Department, Chief Gary Sparks said Wednesday, plus 10 volunteers and four part-timers. He’s already gone over a potential expansion that would force him to put full-timers in DeArmanville and build a station in Golden Springs.

“Realistically,” he said, “we’d have to have 21 to 24 firefighters to staff those two stations.” He budgeted $2.125 million for full-time salaries this year. Another 24 full-timers, he estimates, would require an additional $1.4 million for salaries and benefits.

Finally, take money, for instance.

Bottom line, what would Oxford gain? Henderson asked me that Wednesday, a rhetorical question at best. He mentioned the sales-tax revenue from a Winn Dixie, a McDonald’s, a Burger King, a few drug stores, store fronts and gas stations. He’s a banker, so he explained cost-benefit analysis.   

“The cost” of annexing Golden Springs, he said, “would be more than what revenue you would bring in.”

In other words, this ill-planned scheme to rescue Ward 4 homeowners frustrated with Anniston’s warts and their disappointing property values is an abhorrent deal for Anniston, which would court death, and Oxford, which would have to rework its budgets, staffing and political landscape.

The easiest way for those Anniston homeowners to gain an Oxford address and enjoy life in Oxford’s utopia is to move to Oxford. There are lots of Realtors from which to choose. 

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.