A tax hike he can swallow

Published 8:14 am Saturday, February 14, 2009

In a city where property taxes are, in my view, too high, there are only a couple of causes for which I’d voluntarily pay more.

One is classroom instruction in public schools. Education is an investment in our community’s long-range well-being. Though money isn’t the entire answer, it is necessary to provide an adequate education for Franklin’s future workforce. With state funding for schools plummeting, local taxpayers almost certainly will be asked to help make up the shortfall. I’m prepared to help, conditional on the money being earmarked for instruction rather than administration and on the city beginning some serious dialog with the county on shared services, if not outright consolidation. But that’s another column for another day.

The second tolerable reason for a tax increase is public safety. If a community becomes unsafe, nothing else matters.

Police Chief Phil Hardison, over breakfast with a citizens group Wednesday, made a persuasive case for 10 additional police officers at an annual cost, including salaries, benefits and equipment, of about $750,000.

Hardison believes the additional officers, whom he’d assign to enforcement of drug laws, would go a long way toward taming a recent outbreak of violent crime that should alarm every citizen, regardless of race or class.

The chief pulled no punches in describing the seriousness of the problem. A PowerPoint presentation (available by clicking on link at right) laid out the grim statistics, including:

* A near quadrupling of annual weapons discharges in the city limits between 2005 and 2008 – from 20 to 78.

* A 470 percent increase over the same time period in weapon possession and concealment violations.

* A 62 percent increase in aggravated assaults.

The exclamation point of Hardison’s presentation was a rap video by a homegrown Franklin gang called Take Over Crew, or TOC. Amid other violent proclamations that can’t be printed in a family newspaper, here’s a line that will jolt you: “My crew’s so deep, them coppers can’t even stop us,” laid over video of a Franklin police officer and squad car. This comes a couple of lines after boasts about “spraying” with AK-47s.

The video can be seen in its entirety by clicking on the link at left. I don’t recommend it for children or sensitive adults.

By the end of his talk, Hardison had most in the citizens group, including several who’ve been to known to protest a tax increase here or there, ready to pony up for the $750,000, even if it means higher property taxes.

The chief correctly called on citizens and city leaders, during difficult economic times, to prioritize.

“Without continued investments in public safety, it will be difficult to maintain the level of safety our citizens deserve and appreciate,” he said.

The City Council needs to give Hardison the additional officers he seeks, despite the high price tag. The money should be strictly earmarked for hiring and equipping police officers – a condition the chief is willing to accept.

It would be an even easier sell to taxpayers if the city found half or more of the $750,000 by cutting other expenses.

Here’s an idea: Cut five white-collar jobs at City Hall and hire 10 more men in blue. I believe most citizens, including those who share my distaste for taxes, would accept that trade gladly.