Everyone — the City Council, the police chief, the fire chief, the mayor — is on board after their Thursday night meeting. It’s time for action, the say.
But wait. Can this process be this streamlined? Can it be this pain-free?
No one enjoys paying taxes, whether they’re sales taxes at the shops on Jacksonville’s square or property taxes on their homes. They’re necessary evils — some more necessary than others.
And that’s the key: We’re curious what the council will learn when it holds public hearings on this proposal. Will Jacksonville residents agree that a new public-safety complex is worth paying a little extra at the cash register? Will they agree that the need is great, as the city’s fire and police chiefs say? Or will residents grouse and urge the council to seek other options?
City Hall needs to know, even though there’s little doubt its preference is to increase Jacksonville’s sales tax in order to give the police and fire departments new digs.
“You’ve got to have hearings and give the public a chance to express their concerns, which they’re going to have,” Mayor Johnny Smith said. “What makes it an easer sell is people are willing to support public safety.”
The mayor’s theory soon will be put to the test.
It’s hard to argue against the claims of Police Chief Tommy Thompson or Fire Chief Wade Buckner, who each present strong cases for the new complex. Thompson’s officers work in a 1930s-era building that’s hardly historically valuable. Buckner is promoting the fact that a new complex would likely reduce residents’ insurance premiums. He also calls the departments’ buildings “totally inefficient.”
Hyperbole or not, this discussion is one Jacksonville should welcome. If the police and fire departments are as adversely affected by their facilities as the chiefs say, then the city must consider its options. Those departments, and their concerns, deserve proper treatment.
But the city also must make wise decisions on how to finance any deal.
Residents should strongly quiz the council about this project. Would the sales tax be increased only long enough to pay for the complex? Would it have an end date? Why do the mayor and council feel so strongly that a sales-tax increase is the proper course? Why not select another financing option that doesn’t ask residents to pay more? And what do business owners — who may hear complaints from customers — say about this idea?
The time seems right for Jacksonville to take care of its police and fire departments. But the council should give residents’ strongest concerns, if there are any, ample consideration.