I am confused. For the past year, the people of Searcy have been told that the proposed A&P tax was designed to improve our parks system. I personally thought this was a bit silly, considering our parks are wonderful, and have been for several years. I spent my youth on those fields and spent several years working out there as an umpire. We have hosted many competitive tournaments and been praised by visitors for the quality of our facilities. What needs do the parks have that are so dire that we must raise taxes? I would like to hear some from the proponents of the tax. Don’t they know that we built the new soccer fields, expanded the baseball facility, and remodeled Spring Park without raising taxes?
Now the proponents’ message has changed. We have gone from “improving parks” to “promoting Searcy.” And again, I would like to know why taxes must be raised to accomplish this goal of bringing new businesses into town? This flies in the face of economic history. You do not raise taxes to entice businesses–you CUT taxes. I am all for promoting Searcy, but raising taxes to do it makes absolutely no sense. Searcy can be (and is) promoted through organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. Also, in cities without A&P Commissions, mayors spend their time recruiting new business. Perhaps the problem is not a lack of funds or commissions but a lack of leadership in city hall?
The people of Searcy also deserve to know what an A&P Commission really is. An A&P Commission is an appointed, unelected board (with the exception of the 2 alderman members) that has complete and total control over the A&P tax revenue. Members cannot be permanently removed by the city council or mayor, nor can their actions be repealed. Sure, the Council can vote to “remove” them, but there is nothing within the law to keep them from being re-appointed by the Commission who has control over re-appointments. In Searcy, at least 3 of the already appointed members of the A&P Commission do not even live in the city of Searcy. This seemed to be a legitimate issue for the attorney for the Searcy Friends of the Voters–the council attacked him in front of the public for not living in the city. But it is permissible to give non-residents unchecked control over $1 million tax dollars a year?
In cities like Hot Springs and Ft. Smith, the A&P commissions have spent 50-70% of their revenues on salaries and benefits for their staffs (which can include family and friends of commission members or elected city officials). In cities such as Little Rock, the A&P commission has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on no-bid contracts with businesses owned by members of the A&P commission. Is this “promoting” their city? Or improving their parks?
I am also appalled at the pro-tax talking point that this tax “will be paid mostly by tourists.” How outrageous. I eat out for lunch everyday in this city. A lot of other people do as well. Last time I checked, Searcy was not a “tourist hot-spot.” It is a small town being built on the backs of the same people this tax will punish—you and me. One county elected official even told me that these people (whoever they are) that travel through our city use our roads and infrastructure and therefore “we have a right to their money,” he said. This shocked me. Governments do not have rights. The people have rights. And no one has rights to someone else’s hard-earned money.
I am writing this letter because I really want answers. I want to hear someone from the opposition address these concerns. Is this tax about improving parks? Why? What’s wrong with them? Is this tax about promoting Searcy? Why? Why do we have to raise taxes to improve our city? Was Little Rock built by an A&P Commission? Was New York City? Was Rome?
Personally, I will be voting against the A&P Tax on April 13th because I think it is unnecessary and will be bad for business, especially in an economic recession. You do not raise taxes/increase government spending to stimulate business. If you don’t believe me, ask President Obama how that is going. I also 100% oppose giving $1 million a year to unelected commissioners who are unaccountable to the voters and elected officials. For these reasons, I state my opposition to the A&P tax. I challenge the proponents of the tax to answer the questions posed in this letter. The people of Searcy deserve no less.