Hurdles of public safety: Tough task facing those seeking funding for radios, sirens, resource officers
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
This editorial has been edited from its original version to correct an error regarding the types of weapons stored at the Anniston Army Depot.

The threat of a chemical weapons disaster that brought a top-notch public-safety communications system to Calhoun and Talladega counties is gone. The risk of other emergencies, particularly those caused by severe weather, and the need to maintain a quality system aren’t going away. When the Anniston Army Depot was home to potentially lethal chemical weapons, it made perfect sense for the federal government to fully fund a communications system that connected police departments, fire departments, schools and other critical agencies over two counties into a single network. In 2011, those federal dollars disappeared as the last of the chemical weapons were destroyed. So, the region is left with good system that connects 3,100 individuals representing 102 organizations in Calhoun and Talladega counties. Officials say the system’s aging equipment and advancing technology require an upgrade. Money is needed for replacing the computers that tie the system together, as well as first-responder radios and the weather sirens that warn residents in both counties of incoming storms. County officials representing local governments, public schools, law-enforcers and others propose a property tax increase in Calhoun and Talladega counties that would raise $7 million annually. About $4 million of that figure would go to the radio/siren system. The rest would put a police officer in every public school in both counties. As this page noted last week, we commend the initiative of the two counties. It’s unreasonable (as well as unlikely) for Alabama or the federal government to pay for the communications system. Those who will most benefit from a well-connected public safety communications network are the ones who should pay for it. This region knows from painful experience that a quality weather-siren system can mean the difference between life and death. The path forward won’t be easy. The Legislature must pass a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters in both counties, would raise property taxes by 3.5 mills, or about $35 for $100,000 in property value. Voters would have to be willing to vote to raise their property taxes. Talladega and Calhoun officials who met with The Star Friday said they hoped the vote could come as early as June. Officials would like to commence the upgrade before the end of this year in order to avoid steep price increases expected in 2014. The hurdles are significant. As of Friday, the bill was not yet written, and the 2013 regular session of the Legislature is halfway over. Local legislation typically must meet with the approval of the entire local delegation to the Legislature. Though he’s still considering the measure, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has expressed misgivings about supporting a tax increase. Statehouse Democrats unhappy with how the school tax-credit measure was made law are protesting by slowing down local bills making their way through the already Byzantine legislative process. That makes this a considerable chore between now and May, when the 2013 Legislature adjourns for the year.
© 2013