Differences exist on School Safety Act
by Shane Dunaway
After a Thursday decision by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to oppose the School Safety Act, a clear difference in opinion exists between civic leaders in Talladega and Childersburg.

While the Talladega County Commission, Talladega County Board of Education and the Talladega City Council approved resolutions supporting the initiative, the Childersburg and Oak Grove city councils did not view a tax increase in the interest of school and public safety as necessary.

The resolution would allow citizens of Talladega and Calhoun counties to vote on a 3.5 mill property tax increase, which would update the communication infrastructure in the two counties and allow school systems within those counties to contract with local law enforcement to hire school resource officers.

“They already tax us enough and I’m not willing to give them another opportunity to tax me,” Childersburg Councilman Jimmy Payne said.

Childersburg Councilman Billy Lester echoed Payne’s sentiments, citing public backlash as a reason for his decision.

“Most of the complaints I’ve had were from people who didn’t want to see their taxes raised,” Lester said.

“I think if we had been able to sit down and talk to the leaders in Childersburg, we could’ve explained the initiative to them and gotten them on board with the proposal,” said Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson, who is chairman of the Alabama Regional Communications Systems Board.

Watson speculated the lack of a united front essentially became a moot point when Marsh made his decision.

“We had a meeting last month in Montgomery shortly after we created the initiative,” Watson said. “All of the delegates who represent Talladega and Calhoun counties were in attendance except for Marsh and Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. They told us to create a final draft of the School Safety Act and get our resolutions from the school boards and councils before they would make a decision.

“Marsh decided to oppose it before we had a chance to present our resolutions,” Watson said. “It seems as if Marsh just doesn’t want to support a property tax.”

Talladega city manager Brian Muenger, a supporter of the initiative, said, “Obviously, we have a lot of concerns within the arena of school safety. We’re concerned where funding will come from to maintain a radio system we inherited. There has to be some kind of communication in place for our emergency personnel.

“At this point, we’re considering all options,” he said.

Watson estimated a downgrade to a lesser system could take a minimum of 18-months to two years to make the transition.

“The cost of public safety is real,” Watson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an 800 megahertz, 700 MHz or VHF system. It’s a bigger picture than people understand. This process isn’t as simple as putting up a tower somewhere.”

Muenger said he considered Marsh’s decision a blow to implementing school resource officers the school systems.

“We only have two resource officers for the county schools and none for the city schools,” Muenger said. “Our schools would have benefited from having them to secure the school.”

District 4 Commissioner Jimmy Roberson, who voted in favor of the resolution in the March 25 commission meeting, offered his thoughts on Marsh’s decision.

“As a public official, I don’t have the authority to put it on the ballot and I know how important it is for taxpayers to have the opportunity,” Roberson said. “I supported the resolution because I was willing to give them the chance to vote yes or no. I’m sure (Marsh) has his reasons for not giving taxpayers the opportunity to vote on it and I respect his decision.”

Members of the Oak Grove Town Council and the Talladega County Board of Education could not be reached for comment.

Contact Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com.

© 2013