Over the last three decades, Jonesboro has rapidly grown from a small university town with a heavy agricultural economy to a regional business hub. But during this rapid era of growth, quality of life amenities in Jonesboro have fallen behind, creating both missed economic benefits and an emotional deficit of community needs.
Jonesboro residents have an important question to ask themselves: what kind of community do you want to call home? Sadly for many parents and grandparents the answer they hear far too often is, “somewhere else.” In a ranking that will startle any Jonesboro resident, our city is ranked 7th in the nation in “brain drain.” Brain drain occurs when educated and desirable local talent leaves a city for greener pastures elsewhere and are not replaced by incoming talent. So why is our local talent leaving? In one phrase: quality of life.
Parents want cool places to take their kids, young professionals want entertainment options, and people of all ages want to feel safe. In recent years, Jonesboro residents have watched from the sidelines as smaller nearby cities invested in family-friendly amenities. Jonesboro’s lack of amenities and regional attractions is evident by the drop from full hotel occupancy during the week to less than half occupancy on the weekend. When you factor in fewer visitors with local residents traveling to enjoy other cities’ offerings, we miss out on millions each year in economic activity that would benefit local businesses.
Why do we lack these amenities? Why can’t we have popular things like an aquatics park, bike trails and a vibrant local arts scene? Why do we lack the facilities to host athletic tournaments that bring in thousands of high-spending visitors? For the same reason our local police and fire lack facilities needed to keep pace with growth: funding.
Jonesboro is the 5th largest in population and the 2nd largest city by landmass in Arkansas, yet we have the lowest sales combined tax rate of any major city in the state and do not collect sanitation fees or have a prepared food tax. While our city leaders have done an admirable job with limited funding, other cities have invested more in quality of life and public safety because they generate more revenue to do so.
Team Jonesboro offers a solution. We have proposed a dedicated and protected 12-year, 1% sales tax to fund improvements in quality of life and public safety. Over its lifespan, the tax will directly invest more than $200 million in our community, more than half of which will be paid by people living outside of Jonesboro. Revenues will be monitored by an Oversight Integrity Council, which will be tasked with hearing and reviewing proposals from the public, seeking grants and naming rights, and recommending projects to the Jonesboro City Council. The Integrity Council will make the revenues raised by the Team Jonesboro Initiative the most transparent and accountable dollars ever spent by the city of Jonesboro.
Among the list of projects that Team Jonesboro will pursue are an aquatics park, enhanced mosquito control, increased park funding and construction, a children’s museum, sidewalks and bike paths, an outdoor entertainment venue, multiple youth sports facility complexes, beautification and increased funding for our local arts programs. On the public safety side, funds will be used to hire more police officers and firefighters, modernizing equipment, and building needed facilities to keep pace with growth.
However, Team Jonesboro isn’t about any one project or even a list of projects. It’s about creating a process that gives people access and opportunity to present their community-enhancing ideas for consideration by the Integrity Council.
To critics who say increasing taxes is not the way to generate the necessary revenue for public safety and quality of life improvements, we respectfully ask for their plan to fund these critical areas of need — if it exists, we certainly haven’t seen it.
The Team Jonesboro Initiative gives the citizens of Jonesboro the choice to either invest in our community, or leave our future to unplanned chance. We believe it’s time to unite and vote for more for our families, and our future. On Sept. 10, vote for the Team Jonesboro Initiative and let’s build a safer, stronger community together.
Editor’s note: Brian Richardson is a member of Team Jonesboro. The opinions expressed are those of the author.