Tagged: Searcy politics

White County Judge Cuts $1.5 Million from Road Budget

Remember last month when White County passed their 2012 budget and increased total expenditures increasing by 31% from last year?  And remember when I told you that the county was leaving $7 million of their projected revenues unbudgeted?

Well, somehow, despite the huge surplus, county judge Mike Lincoln has now decided that the county road budget must be cut, by $1.5 million to be exact.

The judge blamed the cuts on ‘rising gas prices’ which are causing people to drive less and hurting state turnback totals.  This despite the fact that gas prices have been falling quickly over the last 4 weeks, even in White County where prices typically stay inflated.

What has changed in the last 3 weeks since the quorum court voted to pass the 2012 budget?  It certainly wasn’t an increase in gas prices.

There is an article in today’s local paper about this.  If you have access, you can hop over and read it, but honestly, it’s incoherent.  Perhaps this is yet another thing that we are ‘too stupid to understand’ because we ‘don’t understand how government works?’

The real problem–for elected officials in our county–is that we do understand exactly how government works.  We understand that:

  •  Only in government could you have a budget surplus of $7 million, and then one month later, be ‘forced’ to cut $1.5 million from the road budget
  • Only in government can you propose a ‘road tax’ in September because the county has ‘serious infrastructure problems’–when the county had nearly $12 million in reserves–and say you cannot pay for improvements without a tax increase, but in December refuse to use the money you have to start fixing things.
  • Only in government can you spend $590,000 on a $320,000 building in October, and then cut $200,000 in gravel expenditures in December due to a ‘lack of revenue.’

Folks, I am really at a loss on this one.  Our infrastructure is crumbling in this county.  We have plenty of money to start making some repairs.  What is going on here?  Is the judge punishing us because he did not get his road tax?  Can we only get real improvements if we raise taxes, even though we have millions of dollars in the bank?

I have some theories, but I want to hear what you think.  You can post your thoughts below.

Nic Horton

Discussing the Searcy Budget with Mayor Morris

As I mentioned on my Twitter account, I had a good visit with Searcy Mayor David Morris on Friday morning.  We spent about two hours discussing the tax proposal and the city budget.

Here are some facts that he shared with me:

  • The 2012 budgeting process starts Monday (yesterday) and will be passed in November or December.
  • The budget “cushion”–which he defined as projected revenues minus projected spending–was about 3%-4% for 2011.
  • The mayor wants a 10% budget cushion and promises to achieve this by the end of his first term.
  • Over the past 3 years, the city has been financing a lot of capital:
  1. 15 new police cars in 2009
  2. 5 police cars in 2010
  3. 1 fire engine, priced at $490,000 with approximately 1.7% interest.  This will take 6 years to pay off.
  • They also bought 5 police cars this year, but they were paid in cash.
  • Morris says that the plans for financing these vehicles were put into place by the previous leadership and, in the case of the fire engine, could not be stopped.
  • He promised that he would not finance any more vehicles while he his mayor.
  • Morris also said that the city reduced its employees by ‘3 or 4’ this year and will continue reduce the number of city employees in 2012.
  • The mayor showed me receipts from various city departments, and demonstrated the oversight process that he has implemented, which includes reviewing every receipt of every expense and requiring initials from department heads as well.

As we have been discussing, it is time for real reforms in Searcy government and I am glad to see that Mayor Morris has already started implementing some changes that will help get us where we want to be as a city.  There is still a lot to be done, but these are steps in the right direction.  In tough economic times, everyone has to tighten their belts, and city government is no exception.

I asked the mayor what it will take to have the entire city budget published online.  He said he supports this idea and hopes to accomplish this in the near future, but he is still getting settled in and trying to sort out some of the residual budgetary problems.

I will make a separate post shortly about my discussion with the mayor regarding the upcoming special tax election.

Nicholas Horton

Full Text of Searcy Bypass Tax Ordinance & Resolution

Here are the three measures that were passed at last Thursday night’s special meeting of the Searcy City Council:

  1. Ordinance 2011-29,  levying a 1% tax on all sales in the city of Searcy for 15 months.
  2. Ordinance 2011-30, which calls for a special election on the tax, to be held on December 13th, 2011.
  3. Resolution 2011-11, which expresses the city council’s support for the tax & the bypass project.

As you can see, the tax ordinance does incorporate some of the suggestions made here on The Patriot.

The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com

Tweet-cap of Tonight’s Searcy Council Meeting

As a summary, here are my tweets from tonight’s special Searcy City Council meeting.  Tweets are in reverse chronological order:
  • Mayor reminds attendees about Oct. 4 public meeting with AR highway commission to discuss south route. #arpx #SCC #fb
  • Mayor reiterating that no one wants a tax right now…asks council to go out and sell the tax to the people. #arpx #SCC #fb
  • Ordinance for special election passes unanimously. I did not hear a date announced. #arpx #SCC #fb
  • Council votes unanimously to attach emergency clause. #arpx #scc #fb
  • Council votes unanimously to pass the tax ordinance. #arpx #scc #fb
  • Council motions and moves unanimously to not read full text of the ordinance. #arpx #SCC #fb
  • Council votes unanimously to amend ordinance to include 1% tax for 15 months. #fb #arpx #SCC
  • Attorney suggests suspending the rules and not reading ordinance. I want to hear what is in it. #arpx #SCC
  • The council has made it clear they want all or nothing. #arpx #SCC
  • That option received zero discussion. #arpx #SCC
  • The mayor informed the council & attorney that there another structural option for the ordinance, allowing delayed implementation. #fb #SCC
  • Mr. Brewer says this is “one of the best things we could ever do for #Searcy.” #arpx #SCC
  • Cothern, whose ward includes both arterial roads, supports a package deal. #arpx #SCC
  • Mr. Brewer says this is NOT a bypass, that is a misnomer. Echoes Raney that we need full package. #arpx #scc
  • Alderman Raney says we need to present a “package deal” to the voters, including arterial funding. #arpx #SCC #searcy #fb
  • Mayor says we need to fund arterial roads and bypass with one ordinance. #arpx #SCC #searcy #fb
  • Mayor speaking to my suggestions now. Says economy could get worse and we should start collections now. #arpx #SCC
  • Mr. Brewer says costs aren’t going to go down between now and the beginning of construction. May cost more. #arpx #SCC #searcy
  • Mayor Morris asks if work can be done for less and still be safe. engineer isn’t sure. #arpx #SCC #fb
  • Engineer says the number could go up. #arpx #SCC
  • Contrary to my suggestion, the city attorney has drafted this proposal as a general use tax, not capital improvement tax. #arpx #SCC
  • Second estimate says $2million. #arpx #SCC
  • City engineer now says $5m just for Main Street. Says the estimate is high. #arpx #scc #fb
  • City engineer says the estimates do not include sidewalks. #SCC #arpx #fb #searcy
  • Still wondering why the former mayor is here…#arpx #SCC
  • Mr. Dixon is here. Resolution passes 8-0. #arpx #SCC
  • Resolution says the city will not support using Holmes or Collins Roads for the bypass route. #arpx #SCC
  • Resolution says the bypass will “promote job growth and economic development.” #Obamanomics #arpx #SCC
  • City attorney reading a resolution in support of the levying of a #tax. #arpx #SCC #searcy
  • Attendees not provided with a copy of the tax ordinance. #arpx #SCC
  • Mayor Morris says “this is a terrible time for a tax. No time is good for a tax.” #SCC #arpx
  • Mayor Morris thanking the council for listening to the people on Tuesday night. I agree, it was quite a rare occurrence. #arpx #SCC
  • Alderman Dixon is absent thus far. #scc #arpx
  • Meeting in order. Using hashtag #SCC. #arpx #searcy
  • Chamber chairman Layne & Jim House are here as well. #searcy #SCC #arpx
  • Former mayor Laforce is here. #interesting #Searcy #Fb
Nic Horton

The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com

Three Positive Proposals for Searcy’s Tax Ordinance

As promised, here is a verbatim copy of my email that I just sent off to the Searcy mayor & city council:

“Mr. Mayor,

I enjoyed our visit yesterday about funding options for the bypass project.  My hope is that the council will comb through the budget & put together a plan that will find the necessary $3 million over the next 3 years’ budgets.  I do not recall the city ever passing on a $500,000 or $1 million firetruck whenever it has been proposed suddenly.  My point is, they always seem to find the money when they really want to.  So I tend to think that the city could find $3 million for this bypass project over the next 3 years and present that plan to the highway commission before years end.

But I am also realistic and I realize that, given the public comments made by the majority of the council, the council intends to pass a tax tonight.  While I still think this is an unconscionable time to consider raising taxes, it seems inevitable, so I appreciate your desire, Mr. Mayor, to make the proposal as amicable to everyone as possible.

Here is what I would like to see in a tax proposal:

  • Sunrise & Sunset.  I know the council has promised to sunset the tax–I hope this will be a real sunset, an automatic sunset in the language of the ordinance–but I additionally propose a sunrise clause.  Under this plan, the council would pass the tax and place the issue at a special election this year, but the tax would not go into effect until January 2013.  This would give the economy more time to improve and it would show that the council is sensitive to the real economic pain that people are feeling right now.  It will also give the highway commission the commitment they are asking for now.

I know when we spoke yesterday, Mr. Mayor, there was some question about whether or not this sunrise concept could be implemented without violating state law.

According to 26-75-207, Section D, which covers rules for municipal sales & use taxes for capital improvements, the tax can be implemented in this way:

“(2) The effective date of the ordinance or petition delayed under subdivision (d)(1) of this section shall:

      (A) Be scheduled on the first day of the first month of a calendar quarter; and

      (B) Not be delayed for more than thirty-six (36) months after the date the ordinance or petition would be effective under § 26-75-209(1)(D)(ii).

      A.C.A. § 26-75-207

The full text can be read here: http://law.justia.com/codes/arkansas/2010/title-26/subtitle-6/chapter-75/subchapter-2/26-75-207/

I assume the tax that is forthcoming will be a sales & use tax for capital improvement, rather than a general sales tax, since this tax is for the purposes of capital improvements.  If the council is serious about using the money only for infrastructure, this capital improvement structure is more than suitable and will allow for delayed implementation of the tax.  I think this sound policy that will allow the economy more time to recover but also show the highway commission the ‘commitment’ they are asking for.

  • Take only what you need.  I do think that, politically, it would be best served for the council to ask for the $3 million for the bypass now and come back and ask for the additional money for the arterial roads later, but this seems to be off the table and I expect the council will ask for the full amount now.  In that case, I do not expect to see a proposal that is projected to bring in more than $6-$8 million, more than enough for the arterial improvements.
  • Earmark every penny.  When I say every penny, I mean all of them.  The council should be more than willing to put together a plan that prioritizes how the money should be spent.  Main street should be first, then Davis drive.  Excess money at that point should be used for sidewalks down these streets.  If those projects are completed, other roads which touch the bypass should be improved.  Not Country Club Road or Golf Course Drive–only roads that are truly arteries to the bypass.  All of this should be spelled out specifically in the ordinance, including street names and sequential order of construction, so there is no confusion or Searcy voters can be assured that the money will be spent in the right way.

I also dislike & distrust this entire idea of ‘special elections.’  I think they are a misuse of taxpayer money and usually a backdoor into something that the people do not like.  However, I can see that the highway department has convinced the city that this is an urgent issue that ‘must be addressed now.’  While I still disagree and that idea contradicts other public comments that the highway commission has made, I will concede that point for now.

I am sure this email comes as quite a surprise to some of the council members who think I am “against everything” or that I “hate Searcy, hate progress.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  What I desire is real progress, and real progress requires transparency & openness with the voters.  I know you agree, Mr. Mayor, and I can see that you have already taken steps to make the city more responsive to the people.  I hope the council will follow your lead & enact my 3 proposals that I have mentioned here.  If they do, they will not only get this tax, but they can begin to repair the large breach of trust that has formed over the last several years between the people and their government–a breach that truly is keeping us from real progress.

Thank you for your time.  I look forward to seeing you tonight at the meeting.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Horton”

The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com

Searcy Tax Will Go Before Voters, Likely December 13th

Several folks have written & called me to ask if the tax that the Searcy Council plans to pass tomorrow night will go before the voters.

Yes, according to state law, the tax must be approved by the people.  

The mayor & another official have told me that the most likely date for the election will be December 13th.

I assume the confusion stems from the A&P debacle last year when the city refused to let the people vote despite being required to do so after being petitioned.  However, the A&P tax is only sales tax in the state of Arkansas that can be passed without the direct approval of the voters.

As a side note:  Our state senator from Searcy, Senator Jonathan Dismang, co-sponsored a bill last session that would have required a vote of the people before an A&P tax could be imposed.

The bill died in committee.

Nicholas H.

The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com

Details of Forthcoming Searcy Tax Proposal

The city council had an informative (though admittedly not productive) special session last night.  The entirety of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of the proposed bypass as well as ways to fund the city’s portion of the costs associated with the bypass.  Mr. John Burkhalter of the state highway commission and Mr. Randy Ort of the AHTD were on hand to discuss the current situation and answer questions from Searcy citizens and their elected officials.

The major points made during the presentation and the ensuing question and answer session included the following:

  • The city needs to commit to a $3M local match by January 31, 2012 or the portion of the bypass between Highway 16 and Highway 36 will not be completed and the state/federal funds currently designated for this project will be allocated elsewhere.  The $3M will need to be available and paid to the state before work can begin, and this project is expected to be bid in 2013.
  • The route for that portion of the bypass has not yet been determined.  There are currently 3 routes under consideration and the final route selection will be determined by looking at a combination of factors including economic impact, cost, environmental impact and safety among other things.
  • Citizens who wish to have a say in the final route of the proposed bypass should put their comments in writing and send them to the AHTD.  The route will be more likely to be influenced by comments regarding impact on safety (such as comments about the number of students/children who travel along Holmes Road and whose safety will be endangered by increased traffic on that route).  The more the AHTD hears regarding this from the citizens of Searcy, the more likely they are to pay attention to it.
  • The AHTD will be holding a meeting on October 4th at 4:00 p.m. at Valley Baptist church to discuss the southern portion of the bypass (from McRae to Highway 36).

After this, the gentlemen from the state left and the mayor and city council discussed what to do going forward and took some questions and comments from the crowd.  Some key points from that included the following:

  • The mayor and council agreed that they will do this as frugally as possible.
  • The mayor and council agreed that in addition to the $3M for the bypass, they needed to provide funding for improving North Main Street out to the bypass and Davis Drive out to the bypass.
  • The city’s current estimates are that a 1% sales tax would generate $6M per year.
  • The mayor and city council agreed that they will put forth a proposal for a 1% sales tax that sets a hard sunset (the length of which is yet to be determined, but they discussed 12 or 15 months which would mean $3M to $4.5M would be available for the work on North Main and Davis Drive) and is dedicated in the language of the ordinance to be used for the following:
  1. The city’s match for the bypass
  2. The proposed improvements to North Main Street and Davis Drive
  3. Any revenue generated by the tax beyond what was needed for those two purposes would go into the city’s street fund for use improving city streets.
  • Cost estimates for the work on North Main and Davis Drive have been done by the city engineer, but he was unavoidably out of town at a meeting concerning flood plain planning/management and was unable to provide that information last night.  As a result, the city council will meet again Thursday at 5:00 to discuss a specific proposal once they have the city engineer’s estimates.  The mayor thought that the estimates for the work were somewhere between $3M (for minimal work being done on those arteries) and $5M (for a significant amount of improvement to those arteries.
Scott Biddle, formerly chairman of Searcy Friends of the Voters.

 

The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com