My View – March 2016

At its first meeting this year, the Jacksonville Budget Committee sounded the alarm about financial stress our public safety program faces in future budget years. For now, town finances are fine, but may not be be so fine starting in 2018. To gather public input, the City Council has scheduled a special Town Hall Meeting on March 19, from 10:00am-noon at Old City Hall—see page 13 for more information.

The bottom line is that increasing personnel costs for our cops and firemen will soon outstrip our small town budget, forcing our leaders to make critical decisions. “My View” is that the majority of Jacksonville residents now expect to receive current, higher levels of EMT/fire and police services and that going back to volunteer and/or part time services is not an option. In “My View,” our public safety programs are provided at bargain prices when compared to surrounding Jackson County towns.

During discussions, the City Council will no doubt revisit annexation into Fire District 3, though it probably won’t happen…the numbers don’t square-up, evidenced by FD 3 turning us down several years ago, after discovering Jacksonville has too few residential units to pencil-out.

Today, Jacksonville’s fire department is funded by the $31 monthly surcharge tacked-onto roughly 1470 household and commercial water bills. This non-tax-deductible fee was the subject of a lawsuit and has been debated for a decade. Conversely, the Police Department is funded from property tax revenues out of the General Fund, representing the largest percentage of the city budget. “My View” is that residents need to prepare, especially those on limited incomes, for higher pass-through costs to come. Please DO NOT misinterpret that I favor higher fees—after eight years of following this issue closely, I simply doubt there’s an alternative.

The ultimate decision and fix will require citizen AND City Council input. There are many questions to be asked including, “Should the City Council simply increase the fire surcharge and implement a new, Police-only-surcharge?” and “Should the Council float a ballot measure for a special tax levy to fund both departments,” or “Can adequate funding be obtained from a combination of both a levy and a surcharge?”

If YOU have questions for the City Council, please join the discussion by expressing “Your View” at the Public Safety Town Hall Meeting and be part of the solution in our Small Town with Big Atmosphere!