A grassroots organization, Team Jonesboro, has formed with the intention of passing a sales tax hike that the group hopes will improve the safety and standard of living in Northeast Arkansas’ hub city. The group wants voters to pass a proposed 1% sales tax that would be imposed for 12 years and would raise about $18 million per year, according to estimates. Team Jonesboro pitched their ideas at Tuesday’s (May 21) city council meeting.
“This is something that is long overdue in Jonesboro. If we are going to keep our brightest minds and local talent here, we must prioritize public safety and make real tangible investments in quality of life in Jonesboro,” Team Jonesboro Chair Scott McDaniel said.
Part of the sales tax would be used to fund investments in public safety and construct public amenities such as parks, aquatics centers, a shooting sports complex, arts and entertainment venues, museums, sidewalks, trail systems and a wide variety of other quality of life based projects. The goal is to improve the safety and lives of people that live in the city, and it will provide tools to recruit new young professionals to the city.
“It’s really a matter of funding, we simply can’t afford the types of amenities that nearby cities have. This initiative will inject the investment we need to redefine quality of life in Jonesboro,” McDaniel said.
An ordinance was submitted to the council that would create an “Integrity Oversight Council” to ensure all funds collected by the tax and dedicated to quality of life infrastructure will be properly accounted for and spent on projects that meet requirement criteria outlined by the initiative.
If approved, the Oversight Council will hold regular public meetings to develop long-term plans, vet potential projects, recommend project funding levels and publish regular financial accounting reports.
Team Jonesboro advocate James Hollywood said the city needs a transparent process if the tax is passed.
“I’m on Team Jonesboro because not only will this initiative attract positive growth and development to Jonesboro, it will do it in a way that is public and transparent. When taxpayer dollars are involved, oversight is critical.”
The recommendations of the committee will be presented to the city finance committee and city council for additional review and approval. In recent years, smaller neighboring cities constructed amenities such as aquatic centers, trail systems and community parks.
“My wife and I often have to leave Jonesboro to find something fun for our daughter to do. Just last summer, we visited water-parks in Paragould, Batesville and Pocahontas and traveled to other nearby cities to enjoy things that we just don’t have here. When we, and the thousands of other local residents, leave for the weekend, our wallets do too. That is a large amount of economic activity that local businesses miss out on,” Team Jonesboro Treasurer Brian Richardson said. “The goal of this initiative is not just to make Jonesboro safer and to keep local dollars here, but to also dramatically increase the amount of tourism dollars attracted from people throughout the region.”
Conservative figures show that at least 50% of local sales tax receipts come from people living outside of Jonesboro. A&P Chairman Jerry Morgan said he thinks it is a good idea.
“Given the large amount of non-resident contributions to city sales tax, Jonesboro residents will be getting a great return on investment. This means that a project such as a Children’s Museum that may cost $5 million dollars will effectively cost Jonesboro residents less than half of that total,” Morgan said. “This is a win-win for local residents and out of town visitors. All will have the opportunity to use these new amenities. The more out of town visitors we have, the more revenue that will flow into our restaurants and retail stores.”
If passed by the Jonesboro City Council after three readings, the sales tax ordinance would likely go before voters on Sept. 10. Passage on that date would allow for collections to begin in the first quarter of 2020 and immediately qualify Jonesboro to begin project construction through a combination of local bank loans, pay-as-you-go, and potential bond funding.
Swimming advocate and local mom Ashley Ditta feels the initiative offers a turning point for Jonesboro.
“The time has come for Jonesboro residents to decide what type of city they want to live in. One with a well equipped police and fire department that has nice parks, recreation and entertainment or a city that can’t afford to fight crime and only offers the bare minimums. We can and should have both a safe and vibrant city. That’s why I support the Team Jonesboro Initiative.”