Follow the money in Jonesboro’s September 10 special election

by Tom Reeves (thimbletom@suddenlink.net) 807 views 

Combined sales tax rates for Jonesboro are currently 8.5%: 6.5% state, 1% county and 1% city. Team Jonesboro’ has proposed a 1% increase to double Jonesboro’s city sales tax rate, from 1% to 2% that will, if approved, bring Jonesboro’s combined sales tax rate to 9.5%. Do you ever hear 9.5% mentioned? Doesn’t sound very good. Maybe that’s why.

On July 2, by a vote of 11 (for) to 1 (against), Jonesboro’s city council approved a costly Sept. 10 special election to give voters their legal right to approve or reject the 1% tax increase. The tax increase originally proposed by Team Jonesboro would raise sales tax collections by a reported $18 million per year, 50% of which would be dedicated to Jonesboro’s Police and Fire Departments and 50% for “quality of life amenities” ($216 million total and $108 million for amenities over 12 years). Why the urgency to seek voter approval to spend taxes unnecessarily?

More detailed “plans,” reported July 24 in the Jonesboro Sun, are substantially different. Now 10% to 14% is allocated to a Justice Complex, 14% to 17% to the Police Department and 7% to 9% to the Fire Department, totaling 35% to 36.5% for “Police & Fire” and 63.5% to 65% to amenities.

Looks like safety of your person and property lost some of their importance; it is amenities that matter. Further, amenities constructed are self-perpetuating tax increases because taxpayer-funded maintenance will be required after the 12-year sunset period is scheduled to end. An appointed Oversight Integrity Council is expected to begin meeting Aug. 7 — over a month before the special election.

Public management “necessities” provide, for example, absence of danger in citizens’ daily lives — a fundamental right elected officials are required by law to provide. Conversely, amenities are nice to have but not necessary.

Publicly-provided, publicly-funded facilities and services for individual preferences that offer aesthetic pleasure to specific individuals, special interest groups and, if the individuals seeking the amenities have vested interests — i.e., personal financial gain. Whatever the reason, by definition, amenities benefit a small minority of citizens. Amenities are extravagant expenditures because the few users bear little, if any, of the cost burden.

Right or wrong, amenities exude the appearance of “corrupt, pork barrel spending,” appropriations of public funds for later defined pet projects with wide spending latitude and little control vigorously promoted by a small group representing special interests rather than the entire population by pumping large sums of taxpayers’ money into projects promoted by the small group of proponents.

Federalist, a Division of FDRLST Media, considers such “pork” (“amenities”) to be inherently corrupt. If proponent’s members can personally benefit financially, directly or indirectly, whether they do or not, by obtaining voter approval that appearance is intensified. It looks corrupt.

That appearance is irreparably harmful to the honor and integrity of the proponents, creates ill will among and divides citizens, and causes significant mistrust and lack of confidence in city leaders who support proponents of unnecessary expenditures — human nature. Sounds harsh, but it’s nothing but common sense and willingness to express unpopular truth; city leaders’ actions say very loudly “We couldn’t care less about the harm this tax increase will do to Jonesboro’s poor and middle class citizens,” more than 71% of the population.

It’s unfortunately a common political ploy used in all levels of government — federal, state and local; blend a few necessities with a lot of unnecessary expenditures into legislation hoping to persuade voters into approving unnecessary expenditures by voting for a few desirable necessities. Simply stated, expenditures for Police and Fire Departments are “bait;” Jonesboro’s voters and their tax dollars are “fish;” the amenities’ proponents are “fishermen” trying to catch “the big one.”

Will you take the bait?

That comment isn’t disrespectful nor directed toward anyone. It simply says, “There’s a better way to fund necessities” — cost cutting, for example. After all, Jonesboro’s sales tax collections are at record high levels, above city leaders’ expectations — without tax increases. Where are those tax dollars going? Has cost-cutting been explored? If cost-cutting hasn’t been seriously considered by city officials, is that irresponsibility or mismanagement?

Voters should make their choices wisely because their futures will be affected.

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Editor’s note: Tom Reeves is a retired CPA. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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