Public safety, amenities on the line in Jonesboro special sales tax election

by Paul Holmes (paulh@talkbusiness.net) 187 views 

Jonesboro voters will go to the polls Sept. 10 to decide whether to impose a temporary 1% sales tax to fund a package of public safety and quality of life projects advanced by the organization Team Jonesboro.

At a recent campaign rollout event, members of the Team Jonesboro organization presented a slate of proposals that event master of ceremonies Trey Stafford, a local business manager, said “will make an immediate impact” on the community.

“While Jonesboro has grown, some of these other communities have grown also in ways to make them more attractive,” Stafford said.

The proposed tax will sunset in 12 years, and would produce an estimated $18 million per year in revenue meaning about $200 million would be generated for various projects over the life of the sales tax.

Up to $99.6 million would be dedicated to the police and fire departments. The estimates for the projects Team Jonesboro intends to support don’t include potential matching federal and state grants, private donations, corporate sponsorships, or other monetary offsets that could drive down the city’s financial commitment to certain projects. The estimates also don’t account for growth or revenue from the Internet purchase sales tax that went into effect this year in Arkansas.

Figures do not include operation and maintenance costs of the proposed projects that will be presented to an Oversight Integrity Council, a panel created by one of three ordinances the Jonesboro City Council passed July 2 by an 11-1 vote. The oversight council and the City Council will be charged with researching and evaluating those costs, Team Jonesboro has said, adding that the group believes projects selected for funding that generate revenue should be revenue-neutral or profitable. Mayor Harold Perrin on July 31 appointed six members of the Oversight Integrity Council.

Half of the money over the life of the sales tax would be used for police department and fire department improvements and the other half for quality of life infrastructure projects. Fire Chief Kevin Miller told the crowd at the rollout event that the city needs two more fire stations, one in the fast-growing northeastern part of the city near the NEA Baptist Hospital campus and the other in the southwest area of Jonesboro, which has experienced tremendous residential growth.

Miller said that since 2007, the fire department has seen its call volume double from 3,000 to 6,000 annually, but only six firefighters have been added and no new fire stations have been built to help cover the city’s 82-square miles of territory. The department needs a new ladder truck and additional engine companies, he said.

Police Chief Rick Elliott noted that police logged 114,000 contacts with the public last year. “Crime control is our number one priority. We’re stretched thin. We need your support,” Elliott said.

A number of community members have said over the last few years that they would like to see the city build an aquatics center. Jonesboro Jets youth swim team director Vic Moore said such a center would allow Jonesboro to host competitive swim meets, which attract hundreds of swimmers. He noted their families would bring additional hotel and restaurant revenues. The aquatic center also would provide recreational opportunities to the citizens, he said.

Pat Malone of NEA Tennis said that there are 7,500 league tennis players in Jonesboro. Tennis is a lifelong sport and nationally, 80% of tennis is played on public courts, Malone told the crowd.

Paul Ford, an attorney, said sidewalks, additional mosquito control efforts, a senior citizen centers, parks, a dog park and beautification projects would benefit a number of segments of the community. However, the current effort to improve the community “means nothing if we don’t take action” by getting voters to the polls on Sept. 10, Ford said.

The Team Jonesboro and the Oversight Integrity Council will be asked to review and select for recommendation to the City Council the following quality of life projects over the life of the temporary 1% tax, if it passes on Sept. 10.

Amenities
Aquatic center: $15 million to $18 million
Beautification and pocket parks: $2.5 million
Bike and pedestrian trails: $5.286 million to $10.573 million
Children’s museum: $5 million to $8 million
Dog parks: $50,000 to $500,000
Forum (arts venue) renovations and improvements: $7 million to $9 million
General parks and pools throughout the city: $10 million to $12 million
Mosquito control: $6 million
Outdoor concert/entertainment venue: $10 million to $12 million
Senior center: $2.5 million to $4 million
Sidewalks: $12 million
Volleyball/multisport complex: $9.75 million to $11.25 million
Youth shooting sports complex: $3.5 million to $4.5 million

Public safety proposals
Police operations center to replace three existing buildings: $15 million to $25 million
Police substations: $2.5 million to $5 million
Police radio system: $7.04 million
Police vehicles: $7.56 million to $8.2 million
Police cameras: $820,000 to $826,000
Police SWAT upgrades: $826,000 to $5.8 million
Police AXON (body camera) contract: $5.8 million to $17.2 million
Police new officers: $17.28 million
Police vehicles for new officers: $1.26 million
Fire department new station No. 8: $2 million
Fire department new station No. 9: $2.5 million
Fire department replace engines: $1.185 million
Fire department replace ladder truck: $1.2 million
Fire department new engine for station No. 8: $590,000
Fire department new engine for station No. 9: $600,000
Fire department personnel at existing stations: $5.76 million
Fire department personnel at new stations: $15.12 million

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