Opinions differ on proposed sales tax in Green Forest; election is Tuesday
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that voting would take place at the Carroll County Courthouse, rather than Green Forest United Methodist Church. The article has been updated to reflect this fact.
GREEN FOREST -- City residents will take to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to increase the Green Forest sales tax by 1.25 percent.
If approved, city officials have estimated, the tax would contribute an additional $300,000 each year to city coffers -- to be used to purchase new emergency vehicles and shore up the city's gutted general fund, they've said. The tax would begin generating revenue this fall.
According to the language in the ballot title, the first 20 percent of this revenue would go toward replacing the city's emergency vehicles, 80 percent of which are more than five years old and many of which are 10 to 40 years old, said Mayor Charles Reece.
Reece said the city had spent $20,243 on maintenance for the fire and police fleets in the last year alone.
The remaining 80 percent of the added revenue would be pledged to the city general fund. At a budget meeting last December, Reece told council members sales tax receipts had slipped 10 percent in 2012. He attributed the decline, in part, to the shuttering of Tanner's hardware store earlier in the year.
The city is expecting a 16 percent dip in sales tax receipts in the first part of 2013, though city leaders hope to make up the gap by increasing the sales tax.
However, the decision to dedicate so much revenue to the general fund, with no restrictions on what the money can be used for, has made some residents uncomfortable.
Former Alderman Mike Miller is one of those residents. Miller acknowledged that the city needed new vehicles, especially a fire truck. However, he questioned why the city couldn't pass the sales tax with a sunset clause, as was done the last time the city needed a new fire truck.
Beyond this, he said he didn't think so much of the tax should be pledged to the general fund, and he questioned how the city had found its way into such dire financial straits.
"In my 11 years on the City Council," he said, "we never had any problems with the general fund."
Miller and several other Green Forest residents, who did not want to be identified, have purchased radio and print ads urging people not to approve the tax.
If voters do approve, city leaders have promised to repeal the existing city property tax. Even if the millage is repealed, Reece has estimated the sales tax increase would still net the city an additional $200,000 each year.
At a meeting last fall, Alderman Tim Hatman noted that repealing the millage would mean little to lower income residents -- many of whom rent and would be hit hardest by the sales tax increase. However, the mayor has said he feels the sales tax is a "more equitable" form of taxation.
City Council members approved the first reading of an ordinance to eliminate the millage, and honor their pledge, at a meeting last month.
Council members would still need to approve two more readings before the ordinance becomes law, and Reece has said the final reading would not take place until August. That vote will be dependent on how voters behave when they go to the polls next Tuesday.
Voting will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Green Forest United Methodist Church, located across the street from Green Forest City Hall.
Ballots will be processed at the Carroll County Courthouse, in Berryville, immediately following the election.