Tuscaloosa’s city budget to focus on improving police force

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Tuscaloosa’s city budget to focus on improving police force

Zach Johnson | @zachjohnsoncw and Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW

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Last night, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox proposed his budget plan for the 2020 fiscal year to the city council. This budget, arranged by Maddox and his team of financial officers, account managers and budget planners, outlined the projections for both revenue and expenditures that the city plans to see in the upcoming year. 

The presentation began with comments that drove the vision of Maddox and his team, starting with “public safety must be first” on their list of priorities.

NEW PLANS

  • One major part of the Mayor’s proposed budget calls for $1.2 million to be allocated towards broadly improving public safety. Nearly half of the proposed $1.2 million would go towards expanding and modernizing the police force, including the hiring of six new police officers and the modernization of body cameras and tasers. 
  • Maddox also highlighted what the strengthening of these programs can do for citizens struggling with mental health issues. Maddox said he wants to address those issues before they even have the chance to turn criminal.

“We do not want people struggling with their mental health in the criminal justice system,” reads a comment from surveyed community members. “That is not where they belong and it will only make things worse for them.”

  • Additionally, some of the money would go toward the purchase of a National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) machine, which would allow law enforcement to scan and share ballistics data from shell casings. 

According to Communications Director Richard Rush, the city is currently paying for the upfront cost of purchasing and other entities, such as the city of Northport, Tuscaloosa County and the University, are paying for membership and service fees. Rush said the city is currently working through the details with other entities so that the whole community can have access to the machine and software. 

  • From there, about a third of the money would go towards the upkeep and renovation of Tuscaloosa’s One Place, Children’s Center, and SAFE Center. The remaining $130,000 or so would be allocated towards hiring new staff members for Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue. 
  • “Elevate Tuscaloosa,” while proposed last night, is still a developing project. Updates on the council’s plans will follow. For the complete budget proposal, including specific finances, please see the City of Tuscaloosa’s official webpage. 

SALES TAX INCREASE

  • In order for these programs to be funded, a motion was raised to increase the city’s contribution to the sales tax. Currently, of the 9% tax Tuscaloosa shoppers bare, 4% is paid to the State of Alabama, 3% is paid to Tuscaloosa County, and the final 2% goes to the City of Tuscaloosa. This past July, the Tuscaloosa City Council, by a vote of 4-2, agreed to raise the overall tax to 10% (effective Oct. 1). 
  • While this increase may alert residents, Maddox explained the financial impact that sales tax revenue has on the city. In 2020, sales and use tax revenue is projected to make up 52% of the city’s total income. In his formal budget proposal for 2020, Maddox outlined exactly how much money he believed this 1% increase would generate in 2020: $869,483. 
  • Since 2015, there has been a 10% increase in the earnings brought about by sales tax, with an approximate 1.92% increase each year. Elevate Tuscaloosa, Maddox’s complete overhaul of a variety of Tuscaloosa programs, estimates that 94% of its total revenue will be from sales tax alone. 

 

FUTURE REFERENCES

The council will meet again on Tuesday, Sep. 3 at 6 p.m. following its closure on Labor Day (Monday). The agenda, as well as a livestream of the meeting, can be found on their website.