Jonesboro’s economic pace slowed in 2017, but mayor optimistic in 2018

by George Jared ( 177 views 

Leading economic indicators in Jonesboro slowed in 2017, but Mayor Harold Perrin thinks the city is set to resume its torrid pace in 2018. Perrin gave his annual state of the city address Tuesday night before the Jonesboro City Council. Building permit numbers were down, and sales tax growth declined, but 2017 was still one of the best on record in Northeast Arkansas’s hub city, he said.

“The state of the city is strong,” he said.

The city’s public transportation system, JETS, had 137,208 passengers last year, a 20% uptick from the previous year. The increase is largely due to the construction of a $1.8 million transfer station that was paid for with federal grants. Routes were more organized and riders were more sure about when buses would run and when they would arrive at certain destinations, he said. Advertising dollars generated from the buses grew by 20% to $29,526.

More than 215 miles of city streets were striped during the last year. Two half-acre detention ponds were built, and the city performed $1 million in street asphalt overlays, he said. Another $1.2 million was spent in drainage work, and $500,000 was dedicated towards sidewalk work. The fire department responded to more than 4,000 calls, and with the help of City, Water, and Light, the city was able to acquire a $1 million fire truck. This helped the city keep its ISO rating at a 1, the best rating available.

There were some areas where the city struggled, the mayor said. The city set its all-time sales tax collections record last year. Jonesboro collected $17.830 million in sales and use taxes, a 2.91% increase ($504,075) from the previous year. During the last five years Jonesboro’s collections have risen by 16%, and have steadily grown each year, but it was slower during the second half of 2017. Perrin said online sales and the lack of sales tax collection are eroding the city’s tax base, and it’s a problem state lawmakers will have to address, he said.

The city issued $147 million in commercial and residential permits last year, a 21% drop from the previous, record-setting year. It’s a 2.6% drop from 2015. Perrin said he believed at the start of 2017, the city might issue $200 million in permits, but those projections hit a snag when construction on two proposed convention centers was delayed. The mayor remains optimistic the city will return to form in 2018.

O’Reilly Hospitality Management had hoped to start construction in 2017 on a hotel/convention center on the Arkansas State University campus. Permit issues, spiraling costs, and other factors delayed the project.

The Jonesboro A&P Commission agreed in November to give up to $2.5 million in hotel tax rebates for the proposed hotel/convention center. O’Reilly Hospitality Management will keep the hotel taxes collected after its 203-bed Embassy Suites hotel, Houlihan’s Restaurant, and the proposed 40,000-square-foot Red Wolf Convention Center open. The agreement is for 10 years after the open date, but is capped at $2.5 million. O’Reilly has a Feb. 15 deadline to begin dirt work on the project, and ASU officials have said previously they expect the project to start by then.

Capital improvement projects are underway as the new year enters its second month, Perrin said, More than $13 million will be spent on capital improvement projects in 2018. About $1 million will be spent on asphalt overlays, and another $500,000 on sidewalks. Expansion projects along portions of the city’s thoroughfares will begin in 2018, too.

The city will spend about $1 million on turf for its baseball fields that will allow them to drain quickly following a rain storm. Another $1.1 million will be used to improve the lighting systems at the city’s softball fields. One of the city’s primary tourism boosters are spring and summer tournaments and the renovations will ensure more participation. Last year, heavy rains forced the cancellations of several tournaments, he said.

“This year, we lost a lot of money,” he said.