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Jacksonville residents could see $20 police charge

Jacksonville property owners, who already pay a $35 per month charge on city utility bills to support fire protection and emergency medical services, may see a $20 fee for police protection.

A town hall meeting on the proposal will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 31, at Jacksonville Elementary School.

The city’s Budget Committee recommended the charge to City Council in December. Council will listen to testimony and then deliberate in a regular session. They can enact a surcharge without a vote of citizens.

“My feeling is that the council will get going on this right away, but I don’t know. I’m going to remain neutral at this point,” said Mayor Paul Becker, who is allowed to vote on issues under the city charter.

Becker said it would be nice to retain police services at current levels if possible, or to even add an officer.

Police services historically have been paid for from the general fund, which is derived primarily from property tax revenues and other resources. Most of the property tax revenue in the general fund goes to police services, leaving little money available for other services such as street repair, historic preservation, parks and building Fire Department capital. This year tax revenue in the general fund is anticipated at $642,000.

Under the committee’s proposal, the $20 surcharge would raise about $300,000, which would be dedicated to a Police Protection Fund and meet 58 percent of Police Department needs. The remaining 42 percent would come from the general fund.

A $20 cap for a minimum of five years was recommended by the committee. City Council would need to pass an ordinance to enact the surcharge. As proposed, the measure would include a relief program for low-income households.

Budget Committee members considered a property tax levy to fund police services, with a projected rate of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Voters would need to approve a levy, which could be enacted for a maximum of five years. The owner of a home assessed at $300,000 would pay $300 annually under such a levy.

Property taxes can be used as a deduction against taxable income, potentially reducing income tax payments. But those provisions do not apply to citizens who take the standard deduction on federal income taxes and do not itemize deductions. The new 2018 tax code is expected to increase the number of individuals using the standard deduction.

“People, of course, don’t like the idea of not taking it off their taxes. That was discussed really heavily,” said Budget Committee member Larry Smith. But uncertainty over the new tax laws played a role in the committee recommendations, he said.

“If it would have gone to the people and have them vote on it, the outcome would be uncertain,” said Smith. “It’s expeditious, but in defense of the City Council, a huge amount of thought and preparation went into this.”

Smith credited Councilor David Jesser for regularly updating the council and committee on future city financial needs over the last two years.

A total of $260,000 is budgeted for police salaries, not including benefits and retirement contributions, for the current fiscal year. Other major police expenses shown in the budget include $65,000 for 911 service, $20,000 for materials and supplies, $17,000 for fuel, $12,000 for overtime and $6,000 for incentive pay.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.