Sebastian County sales tax election set for Aug. 8

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,080 views 

A special election is set for Aug. 8 to extend the 1-cent countywide sales tax in Sebastian County that provides a big chunk of the budget for the county and towns and cities inside it for another 10 years.

The Sebastian County Quorum Court recently approved an ordinance to set a special election for the question of the continuation of the levying of a county-wide 1% general sales and use tax within the county. The tax was first approved by voters in the county in 1994. It has been renewed twice for a 10-year interval, the last during a special election May 14, 2013.

In February of that year, the Quorum Court passed a resolution agreeing to call an election at the end of the 10-year period from the effective date of the sales and use tax in order to let voters consider the continuation of the tax. The tax is set to sunset June 30, 2024, said Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz.

Collections from the tax are divided among the 11 towns and cities in the county and the county itself based on a per capita percentage, Hotz said, noting that those living in the county and not in the incorporated limits of one of the towns make up the basis of Sebastian County’s share of the tax.

Of the approximate $32 million the tax generated in 2022, the county received about $4.8 million in sales tax revenue, Hotz said. Fort Smith, the largest city in the county, received $23.553 million from the tax in 2022. The city’s share of the countywide tax is closely watched because the revenue provides money for the city’s general fund budget, with much of that budget paying for police, fire and other essential city services.

“This tax is essential for many of the towns in the county. It makes up a good portion of their budgets,” Hotz said.

It makes up about 10% of the county’s funds, with other funds coming from property tax revenue and the county’s portion of the state’s fuel tax, which is used for the county’s roads, he said.

The Sebastian County Quorum Court also passed a resolution April 18, stating how funds from the tax will be spent if the renewal is approved by the voters. The county’s share of the sales tax will be split with 54.5% of the tax revenues going to the operation of the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center, 9% going to the operation of the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center, 9% going to the continued funding and support of three patrol deputies with the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office, 11% going to capital projects, 5% going to the county’s volunteer rural fire departments, 2% going to the Sebastian County EMS, 1% going to the Sebastian County senior citizen centers, 0.5% going to the programs with the Scott-Sebastian County Public Library, including building expansion as necessary, 7% going to the costs associated with paying for county employee health care and worker’s compensation, and 1% going to county parks.

“This funding is critical. Without it, something will have to go, something will have to be eliminated,” Hotz said. “When you take 10% out of your budget, that is significant. We haven’t looked at what we would need to cut, but if we didn’t have it, we’d have to make cuts.”

Hotz said about half of the tax paid each month is paid by people who do not live in Sebastian County but who are using county services, including those provided by EMS and the sheriff’s department, and county roads.

“This tax is a way for them to contribute to the cost of the services that are being provided for them,” Hotz said.