Jonesboro’s need for additional funding to fund more police and fire services and add amenities to the city did not disappear with the voters’ rejection by a narrow margin of a measure to levy a 1% local sales tax, a leader for proponents of the measure said.
Scott McDaniel, chairman of the grassroots group Team Jonesboro, said, “What we’re doing now is listening to what folks are saying” about the proposal for the city to levy a 1% tax for 12 years to raise a total of $180 million. Half of the money would have been dedicated to meet the needs of the Jonesboro police and fire departments and the other half would fund amenities chosen from requests made by citizens to an Oversight Integrity Council.
The Jonesboro city council in July approved three ordinances relating to the Team Jonesboro initiative — one created the Oversight Integrity Council, another called for a Sept. 10 vote on the tax, and the third would have levied the tax for 12 years, had voters approved it.
Voters rejected the measure by a 51%-49% margin on Sept. 10. The vote totals, certified by the county’s election commission, were 4,807 in favor of the tax and 5,019 against it. However, of the more than 9,800 votes cast in the special election, the majority were cast during the early voting period. Nearly 6,300 of those who voted in the election cast early votes.
“People stayed home on election day,” McDaniel noted.
Nevertheless, McDaniel said the needs still exist in terms of additional manpower and equipment for the police department, additional personnel and fire stations for the fire department, and quality-of-life facilities and programs that are desired by existing residents of the community and attractive to those who might be considering Jonesboro as a place to relocate.
When Team Jonesboro began its campaign that resulted in the special election, members of the group pointed out that Jonesboro is the second-largest city in the state in area — police and firefighters provide protection to 80 square miles of territory. The police department has needs for more officers, new school resource officers, a new communications system, replacement of the downtown Justice Complex, additional training and placement in the city of security cameras, Team Jonesboro contended.
Additionally, Team Jonesboro said, the fire department needs two new substations, additional firefighters and trucks and to modernize its emergency response equipment, all of which would help the city keep its Class 1 ISO fire insurance rating.
In addition, Team Jonesboro representatives spoke of a “brain drain” of young people from Northeast Arkansas because other communities offer amenities for families such as an aquatic center, bike trails, a children’s museum, more parks, an amphitheater, an indoor multisports complex and the like.
However, Team Jonesboro did not propose a pre-selected list of specific projects that the group would like the city to pursue. Instead, it proposed a city council-appointed Oversight Integrity Council to receive and evaluate suggestions from the public to propose to the city.
Some voters may have been concerned by that, McDaniel said. “It’s a bold move to try to sell a process by which projects would be selected for funding. But, we came close, really.”
A group calling itself Citizens Taxed Enough formed to oppose the tax hike.
According to Talk Business & Politics content partner KAIT, the group said it supported a sales tax increase to benefit the police and fire departments but didn’t support additional tax money to go toward amenities.
Ward 6 Alderman Bobby Long, who is a declared candidate for the District 53 seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives, was the only one of 12 city council members to vote against the three ordinances setting the vote, establishing the oversight panel and levying the tax if voters approved.
Long, who serves on the council’s public services committee and public safety committee, said on Aug. 27 he would propose that the city enact a permanent quarter-cent sales tax to be earmarked strictly for police and fire needs if the Team Jonesboro proposal failed.
He had said previously he would have preferred that the Team Jonesboro proposal be split into public safety and amenities components with each to be voted upon separately.
McDaniel said Team Jonesboro will continue its efforts to fund improvements to the city’s public safety agencies and provide amenities citizens want.
“Team Jonesboro is a movement, not a moment,” he said.