As of Sept. 14, Friends of UAFS have more than $100,000 to spend on a campaign to convince Sebastian County voters to renew a 1/4 cent sales tax that provides around $6 million a year to the University of Arkansas.
When Westark College joined the University of Arkansas system and set to transition to a four-year institution, the college was no longer eligible to receive millage revenue. Sebastian County voters approved a ¼-cent sales tax to go into effect Jan. 1, 2002, the same day the institution became the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith in order to help fund the transition and growth of the university. That sales tax sunsets Jan. 1, 2022. Arkansas Act 1087 of 2013 gave UAFS the authority to request a sales-tax extension for 10 years.
The question will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot in Sebastian County.
Citizens Against Unfair Taxes on Tuesday announced a campaign against the tax, with campaign spokesman Joey McCutchen saying it is now time for the university to “tighten its belt” like everyone has had to do in recent years because taxpayers cannot afford to pay as high of taxes as they do.
According to the most recent campaign filing with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Friends of UAFS has raised $106,010 to lobby voters to renew the tax. The group was formed in early June with Michael Barr, president of Harry G. Barr Co., and ArcBest CEO, President and Chairman Judy McReynolds are listed as co-chairs of the group. Other officers of the group are vice chair Jason Green, vice president of human resources for ABB in Fort Smith; treasurer Sam Sicard, president of First Bank Corp.; secretary Rodney Shepard, chief customer experience officer with Arvest; and Dalton Person, an attorney with Jones Jackson Moll McGinnis & Stocks.
Citizens Against Unfair Taxes has yet to file its group leadership and contribution reports with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. McCutchen said a filing would be made later this week. A ballot question committee has five days to report after receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $500.
According to its filings, following are the top Friends of UAFS donors.
• UAFS Foundation: $50,000
• Fort Smith Regional Council: $35,000
• Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce: $15,000
• ArcBest: $2,000
• First National Bank of Fort Smith: $2,000
• UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley: $1,000
• Shepard: $1,000
As of Sept. 14, the only expense made by Friends of UAFS was $465 in legal fees to Jones Jackson Moll McGinnis & Stocks. However, the group has been spending money, and the expenses will be listed in the group’s pre-election report. Chip Paris with Fort Smith-based Paris Marketing & Public Relations is managing the Friends of UAFS campaign.
“The entire campaign budget raised by contributors is going towards helping renew the sales tax. Campaign items include signage, a paid phone program, print and digital advertisements, video production, social media advertising, website, educational mailers, collateral material (buttons, stickers, etc.) and volunteer supplies,” noted a statement from Barr. “Citizens and businesses in Sebastian County have been extremely generous with funding the effort to pass the renewal and understand the return on their investment, even during the events of the last six months where many of our contributors have had to make difficult decisions concerning their day-to-day operations. They’ve all expressed interest in doing what they can to help pass the effort and support the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.”
Talk Business & Politics Fort Smith metro report Tina Dale contributed to this report.