Due to my temporary departure from Searcy & my developing distaste for local politics, I have remained silent on the issue of the proposed tax increase in White County in order to fund a new bypass around the city of Searcy. After receiving a few requests for comment, I have decided to weigh in.
The picture to the right is particularly appropriate: it is important that every citizen of this county slow down & consider the facts of this proposal before voting. This post will stick mainly to those facts, but I will follow up with a few more articles about the merits of the proposal and the perils of raising taxes at this time, in this economy.
I hope these articles will serve as a launching pad for a serious discussion on the facts. I am not interested in mud-slinging or emotional arguments. Every citizen owes it to themselves & their neighbors to analyze this issue thoroughly. As John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”
The White County Quorum Court voted at their last meeting 11-1 to send a tax increase proposal to the voters. The special election will be September 13. Bobby Burns (R-Beebe) was the lone dissenting vote.
*Note: JPs simply voted on the issue of placing the tax on the ballot, not for or against the tax itself.
The proposed bypass is a $60 million project, according to JP Cameron Cooper (R-Rose Bud), and the state is paying for 90% of it. Apparently the remaining 10% of the cost is to be paid by White County residents. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that Searcy would pay half of that cost (roughly $3,000,000). Due to the reckless spending that the Searcy City Council has undertaken in recent years, which has been chronicled thoroughly on this site, Searcy cannot pay their part. So now a plan has been devised to implement a county-wide 1% sales tax for 21 months.
That’s right. The entire county will bear a tax burden because Searcy cannot meet their “obligations” and cannot get a tax passed on their own. The county is essentially doing the city’s bidding for them. This is essentially a bailout.
According to Cooper, the revenues would be divided up among the cities of White County on a per capita basis. “7/8 of that must be used for infrastructure, specifically, roads, bridges, and drainage. 1/8 will be mandated for ‘economic development.’ ” And of course we know from past experience in our state that ‘economic development’ has been found to mean any number of things, including new football uniforms for a local high school & retirement benefits for quasi-governmental officials.
It is also important for the people of White County to know: the original bypass tax plan included a 0.5% tax. This would have given the city of Searcy the full $3,000,000 they needed to pay their part. However, it has been noted that the city council was unhappy with this amount and convinced the county to up-the-ante to a full 1%. This gives them $3,000,000 to contribute and $3,000,000 to stuff the coffers.
This tax is estimated to bring in $18 million–but only $6 million is “needed” for the bypass.
Here is how the revenue would be distributed based on the projections:
White County: $9,002,287; Bald Knob: $726,351; Beebe: $1,834,055; Bradford: $190,300; Garner: $71,206; Georgetown: $31,090; Griffithville: $56,413; Higginson: $155,700; Judsonia: $506,214; Kensett: $413,195; Letona: $63,935; McRae: $170,995; Pangburn: $150,686; Rose Bud: $120,850; Russell: $54,157; Searcy: $5,731,076; West Point: $46,384.
So as you can see, Searcy will get close to $6,000,000, giving them enough to pay their $3 mil. and put nearly $3 mil. in the city coffers. How will that money be spent? Why do they need it? And why should the entire county bear a tax burden to compensate for Searcy’s inability to meet their so-called obligations?
I will have more comments in the coming days on the merits of the proposal & what questions we need to be asking before the special election in September. Regardless of where you stand on the bypass or taxes, there is much to be discussed about the way this particular tax has been structured. I think it’s a discussion worth having.
Nicholas Horton is the Editor of The Arkansas Patriot & former Searcy City Council candidate. In his spare time, he volunteers for various political causes. You can contact Nicholas at email@example.com & follow him on Twitter.