Crawford County officials mull early vote on tax

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 64 views 

In an era of tight budgets and declining revenues, maintaining sales taxes have become vitally important to local municipalities.

Recently, Sebastian County launched a campaign for renewing its county-wide sales tax to fund public safety and other must-have items within the county and Crawford County is not too far behind.

And according to Crawford County Judge John Hall, he is considering holding an election for the renewal of Crawford County's one cent sales tax sometime early next year.

"We will present it to the Quorum Court in October and try to present it at that time," Hall said.

He said after discussions with various community leaders across Crawford County, he and the Court mutually decided that February 2014 would be the most appropriate time for an election.

The tax, which Hall said was first passed by voters in 2000, provides funding not only to the county, but also to cities.

The split of the nearly $5 million in revenue is about 50% to each entity, he said, with cities receiving revenues based on population.

Van Buren, the county's largest city at nearly 23,000 people, collects nearly $1.75 million from the county sales tax revenue, according to Mayor Bob Freeman.

"Of that, 15% is devoted to fire department, 15% is devoted to police department, and $240,000 a year goes to Municipal Utilities for water and sewer capital improvements.  The funds we receive after the above are taken out are devoted to streets and drainage," he wrote in an e-mail.

Mulberry City Clerk Marie Johnson said her city only receives $12,000 to $14,000 per month from the county sales tax, but it is just as important to the small town's budget.

"Of that, we take 60% of that and put it in our general fund, 35% for streets and 5% to water and sewer depreciation," she said.

Mulberry also receives funds, Johnson said, that some other cities in the county do not.

"In addition to that, we also get $15,000 to $20,000 per year because we are a city-county fire department."

Hall explained that 40% of the revenues collected by the county goes to public safety, including providing grants to rural fire departments, such as Mulberry's. Part of the public safety funds also provide funding for the sheriff's department, as well.

The money, Johnson said, has proven vital to the Mulberry fire department. Without the funding, she said certain equipment purchases would have to be delayed or eliminated altogether.

"We have earmarked that money for the next five years for a fire truck payment," she said. "Basically, that would mean if we don't get that money, we would have to use money meant for other equipment we would like to have."

Freeman echoed the statements, adding that the money has helped fund improvement projects, such as the lane addition currently taking place on Rena Road.

"One of the (other) primary uses this year is the 16th street signalization project," Freeman added. "The county tax is critical for our operations."

Hall said as the time approaches for the vote early next year, he wants citizens to educate themselves and each other on how the county sales tax impacts cities and the county. He said without the tax in place, public safety would be impacted and a the county's already fragile economy could take a hit.

"To take a $2.5 million hit, we would lose a lot of employees because that's the only thing we could do," he said.

Should the tax fail to be renewed for an additional seven years, Hall said he is prepared to bring it to the ballot again to insure the tax stays in place before the tax "sunsets" in August 2014.