By a 3-2 vote, the council approved its fiscal 2014 budget to the tune of $35 million, a figure boosted slightly by an extra $100,000 allocated for the city’s public schools and decisions to keep open Anniston Municipal Golf Course and the Carver pool. Both had been considered for closure to help the city trim its costs.
Anniston is in transition, a city still seeking its way following the Army’s departure and the economy’s 2008 crash. With that in mind, concerned Annistonians should file away Tuesday night’s developments.
Here’s why: Crafting the city’s annual budgets won’t get any easier in coming years without a major uptick in the local economy or the arrival of significant new revenue streams, options that seem remote, at best. Thus, the chore of deciding what to fund, what to limit and what to defund will require serious budgetary mettle from the Stewart City Hall.
That includes monies available for Anniston City Schools.
Credit this week goes to council members Jay Jenkins and Millie Harris, who rightly asked tough questions about the city’s schools in voting against budget approval. Anniston is a city diminished in numbers: its population has declined for decades, and its schools are hardly filled to the brim. Vital is the need to reduce the footprint of Anniston’s seven public school campuses. Keeping open five elementary schools, a middle school and a high school is economic lunacy.
Or, as Jenkins said Tuesday, “Providing additional funding, even with the accountability strings attached, simply states we as a council are willing to ignore the 500-pound gorilla in the room that is consolidation as a method of fiscal responsibility.”
Three times in recent weeks the council has watched residents across the city’s four wards give their input into Anniston’s future. We assume the information gained will prove invaluable to the council next year as it debates the pros and cons of paying for this and pulling funding for that. But the ultimate responsibility rests with the four men and one woman who were elected in 2012 to pilot the city down a wiser path.
Annistonians’ expectations should be for this council to make wise decisions about how to spend the city’s money as we move forward. Status quo isn’t an option. The city should write its budgets thinking about what’s best for the future, and nothing less.