By Donna Thornton/News Editor
After gauging response and getting input from Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton, the Etowah County School Security and Safety Committee voted Feb. 22 to revise its one-cent sales tax recommendation and to urge support for local and state bills that could improve security in local schools at lower costs.
State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he’d met with Guyton about the mayor’s plan to use retired law enforcement and other certified personnel to work part-time as school resource officers in the Gadsden City schools. The Gadsden City Council passed a resolution supporting a local bill and a statewide bill Ford is sponsoring to make it easier to hire such part-time officers.
The bills would waive some of the physical and continuing education requirements for these officers to remain certified to serve as SROs. To be hired, these retired personnel still would have to meet Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training requirements regarding firearms and use-of-force training.
Previously, the committee approved a resolution calling on the Etowah County Commission to impose a countywide sales tax to fund security measures in schools.
However, Ford and other committee members said after speaking to mayors or other city representatives, they found that municipal leaders in Etowah County largely oppose the idea of increasing sales tax. Most municipalities have 9 percent sales tax, while the sales tax in unincorporated areas is 8 percent. An increase in the unincorporated area would bring the sales tax rate there level with municipalities.
Looking at the “political reality” of the situation, Ford said, efforts to impose a one-cent sales tax including municipalities would be unlikely to succeed.
The committee voted to amend its resolution urging the commission to impose a one-cent sales tax in unincorporated areas only, as well as considering other ways to generate revenue for school safety, including a referendum on additional ad valorem, or property, tax.
In unincorporated areas, a one-cent sales tax would bring in about $500,000 a year.
Several municipalities have stepped up to supply a SRO for schools in their areas. Etowah County Board of Education member Tim Langdale said Altoona, Southside and Rainbow City have offered to supply an officer for their schools.
However, some county schools are located outside corporate limits: Whitesboro, Duck Springs and Ivalee, among them.
Ford said he hopes the commission will work to supply officers at schools that are in their districts. By using retired officers on a part-time basis, he said, the cost will be much lower.
“It’s going to take a partnership of governments,” Ford said, to address the issue of school safety.