Fort Smith Chamber endorses 1% prepared food tax

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 28 views 

Based on results of a membership survey, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday (Oct. 20) to to endorse the proposed 1% prepared food tax.

The chamber’s support marks the second significant organization this week to endorse the tax. The Arkansas-Oklahoma Regional Education & Promotion Association, also known as the Rodeo-Fair Board, announced Tuesday that its board endorsed passage of the proposed 1% prepared food tax during its annual meeting.

Proceeds from the 1% prepared food tax, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot, would support operations of the Fort Smith Convention Center. A 1% prepared food tax is estimated to raise about $1.8 million annually.

The chamber initiated Sept. 20 a membership survey on the 1% prepared food tax. Chamber President Paul Harvel said specific survey results would not be released, but “clearly it was overwhelming that our chamber membership supports the 1%.”

In a statement, the chamber said the convention center provides an economic benefit to the city and region.

“While none of us enjoys new taxes, the Chamber recognizes this special, dedicated local tax is an investment in the Fort Smith business community’s future, and it inherently supports the economic development mission of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Our region’s $40 million convention center is a proven catalyst for economic development, and it reflects the vitality of our entire region. Funding at competitive levels is essential for our city’s image to investors and ultimately to our city’s growth,” noted the statement.

Harvel stressed in an interview that the decision came after more than a month of discussing the issue with members and capturing membership sentiment in the survey.

“This was not a board room decision. We went to all our members and asked them their thoughts. This is truly a membership organization, and it was very healthy that this chamber went through the discussions, talked to our members before coming to any decision,” Harvel said.

Taking a stand on what has become a high-profile, contentious issue was tough because “some of our cherished members” are against the tax, Harvel said.

“But, by the same token, a clear majority said otherwise. We can’t ignore that,” he explained.

Liz Armstrong, a leader of the group opposing passage of the tax, issued this statement: “The decision of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce to endorse the 1% PFT is to be respected if the endorsement was based on a majority of the membership’s views. We look forward to seeing the results of the full survey that the Chamber referenced and believe they will be forthcoming with these results based on its endorsement. The true decision will be made on November 8th (early voting starts November 1st) and we encourage the voters of Fort Smith to participate in the election process.”

Other points in the chamber statement include:
• We agree with our membership that maximizing the Fort Smith Convention Center’s potential is best served by changing the management and giving it competitive funding.

• The estimated economic impact of the Convention Center at its current level of performance is $20 million. With funding for enhancements, the center will be even
more competitive with other convention centers in the state and the economic impact for Fort Smith has the potential to grow substantially.

• In this current economic climate, having a strong convention center bringing new money and new people in to our city’s businesses is paramount. We cannot afford to lose the positive impact the Fort Smith Convention Center has on our community.