The four candidates for Jonesboro mayor – Harold Copenhaver, Amanda Dunavant, Thomas Elwood and Andy Shatley – recently answered Talk Business & Politics questions about economic growth in the city and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The candidates, all vying to replace retiring Mayor Harold Perrin, also answered questions about the recently failed sales tax increase and how they would raise funds for special projects.
Q: A recent sales tax increase proposal that would have funded many projects in the city was defeated at the ballot box. Many of the projects were much needed in a growing city like Jonesboro. What are some projects you intend to support, if elected, and how will you fund them?
Copenhaver: As Harold Copenhaver, the private citizen, I certainly have specific things I would love to see for our city. But as Harold Copenhaver, the mayoral candidate, I feel like I have to put my personal preferences aside in order to truly represent the best interests of the public I am asking to lead.
I think the Team Jonesboro Initiative brought up a lot of issues that we need to address in Jonesboro. While the voters have spoken on the sales tax, it was close and I do think some of the projects discussed would be great for Jonesboro. The challenge is figuring out how to pay for them.
We need to take a hard look at what is possible given the current economic climate. As a city, we need to get a true sense of what the online sales collections will generate during more normal conditions before we make any major decisions on projects. I believe Jonesboro families deserve top quality parks, and the economic benefits from improved athletic facilities is very real. One avenue that the city should explore is using public/private partnerships and sponsorships for park upgrades and athletic facility investments. In addition, some projects could potentially be funded with bonds if they are projected to be revenue generating. For other projects, implementation may require a phased development approach.
I believe that we need to first look at our existing budget to see what we can afford to do. I believe that if a quality of life project or a public safety issue were to come back before the voters, it would need to clearly define where the money would be spent and why the tax raise would be necessary.
Ultimately, improvements in quality of life will require working together with everyone to find funding solutions. We must find ways to make Jonesboro more attractive to young professionals and their families if we want to remain attractive to new industry. It has always been and continues to be my firm belief that as a community we have far more that unites us than divides us. I believe that every citizen of our city wants the best for our community both now and for future generations. I think the challenge is in finding a leader with the maturity, the experience and personality to know how to make sure everyone has a seat at the table; and who will genuinely listen to all parties who choose to participate in that process. As Mayor, I look forward to bringing everyone together and when we do, I feel confident we can find common ground on how to improve the quality of life in Jonesboro.
Dunavant: I intend to support the current projects, the Village and Sports Shooting Complex. We need to be looking at funds for the fire department, police department, street department, JETS and sanitation department. Without these core departments, our wonderful city would be lost without them. I love quality of life projects, but we have several needs in vital departments of the city. I would be looking towards cutting unnecessary spending, donations, grants, and worst case scenario, I would ask for public comment from the citizens of Jonesboro for a tax for police and fire. That tax would only be considered if the money cannot be moved to general funds, will have an exact list on what money is to be spent on, and would hold a vote in the next election cycle. I am not a fan of taxes, that is why it is a worse case scenario.
Elwood: Currently, I would not support any new tax increase at this time. I do feel like much can be done to improve our city on our current budget. Going forward in the future, we do need to address some of our outdated infrastructure. We need a new justice complex and we need to modernize some of our drainage system. Right of ways created by filling in some ditches will provide walkways, bike paths etc.
Shatley: Our most pressing projects currently are two sectors of town needing additional fire stations, personnel and equipment. We need to identify station locations in the northeast and southwest segments of Jonesboro to maintain ISO 1 ratings throughout the city. Consolidating our police services within a central building would address currently dilapidated facilities and improve communication and efficiency within our departments. Currently, the largest city funded project in many years is under construction – the Jonesboro Shooting Complex – and once completed will be a substantial economic boost for our town. We must secure outside funding sources to complete this project.