Moving Searcy Forward looked at 70 cities across Arkansas for total sales tax, according to Will Moore, spokesperson of the tax-support community group, and found that Searcy’s is at average right now. Without the temporary 1-percent tax, he said the city would be in the bottom five among those communities.
“We want to be a vibrant community for us today and the generations to come,” Moore said during an “In the Know” Zoom forum hosted earlier this week by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We want to make sure the city has adequate funding to provide citizens basic city services and we want to be a community that collaborates with all of our citizens to figure out how we can raise the quality of life for everyone in Searcy.”
Step one in that process, according to Moore, is securing basic city services. “We want to make sure as citizens, we have done everything we can to provide the city with adequate funding to make sure they can provide those services.”
Early voting for a special election Nov. 9 that would make permanent the eight-year, one-cent sales and use tax passed in 2014 begins Nov. 2 at the White County Cooperative Extension Service Office, 2400 Landing Road, and will run 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 8.
Moore said over the course of the seven years the one-cent tax has been around, $6.5 million has been the average revenue collection on a yearly basis. The breakdowns of the continuing annual needs for the one-cent revenue, he said, are police and fire, $1,566,000; infrastructure, $2,644,000; sanitation, $653,000; economic development, $500,000; courts and administration, $193,000; reserve fund, $250,000; and parks and recreation, $694,000. (Those breakdowns are available on cityofsearcy.org.)
Among the police and fire needs, he said, is $750,000 yearly for retirement that “is an obligation that does not go away regardless of the results of the vote on Nov. 9. This is a state-mandated obligation, so Searcy needs the one-cent revenues to do that.”
Through Arkansas Legislative Audit, Moore said the group found out that just about every city around the state has increased property tax to “cover their exposure to the police and fire retirement. The city of Searcy has elected not to do that and as citizens of Searcy, I think that’s something we all benefit from, but they [the city] have to figure out a way to generate revenue to cover that obligation, and that comes from the sales tax.”
The city, Moore said, has a fleet of 36 police vehicles and about 20 cars for investigative and administrative use. “All those cars have a fixed useful life. They have to be replaced on a reasonable basis. With this fleet replacement, they are able to replace about six police cars a year and about two administrative cars a year.” The fleet expense is listed as $200,000 yearly and staffing needs for police and fire are listed as being $544,000 more than the current expense ($3,576,353 in 2020).
Infrastructure, streets, drainage and sidewalk needs were listed as $2,598,000 and additional staffing needs for these areas was put at at $46,000. For sanitation, needs of $522,000 were given for fleet and $131,000 for staffing.
Moore said he thinks it is awesome that the city also wants to invest in itself with economic development, with workforce development, job creation and shovel-ready sites. He said the city could “put some wind in the sails and invest in some awesome programs.”
The reserve fund discussion included talk of a rainy day fund and $250,000 for grant matching. “I think it’s very reasonable for us to all expect our city to have a savings account,” Moore said.
Moving on to Parks and Recreation, Moore said staffing was on the chart for $86,000 and maintenance and operation was listed as being $608,000.
“As we understand, Parks and Rec has not had a budget increase in over five years, so this kind of secures some additional operating funds for Parks and Rec,” he said. “As someone with young kids,” Moore said, he “would like to see the parks, soccer fields and baseball complexes in well-kept manners that the city could be proud of.”
Quality of life was brought up next, but Moore said it can’t really be talked about until step 1 is secured. “We have to secure our core funding before we can entertain moving to step 2.”
Crafton Tull is a civil engineering firm that has been contracted by the city that primarily focus on master-planning, according to Moore. He said the firm focuses on “citizen feedback from the whole community.”
Moore shared pictures of places like Conway, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Maumelle as well as cities in Oklahoma and Texas where Crafton Tull has done work. He said the company also does park systems and can calculate sidewalk needs. Moore mentioned the company will be able to give the city good feedback on developing Riverside Park.
He said he likes to look at this as a five- or 10-year plan so that the city administration now and the future have “some continuity.”
To pay for all of the city’s needs, Moore said, it has two primary sources of income: sales taxes and property tax. He said the Nov. 9 measure simply holds the “green line on where it is. It is not a tax increase; we are all paying it today. It would simply continue that same tax rate.”
He said if the tax passed in 2014 is allowed to expire in June 2022, “not only would that be the lowest of this group of cities, but when you look at that in the context of the other mechanism that a city has to raise, generate revenue, property taxes, Searcy’s down here at the bottom already.”
Searcy’s property tax also is “100 percent allocated to one thing – all of the dollars generated from our property taxes goes to the police and fire retirement fund. It doesn’t cover the whole obligation. ...”
“So if we allow our sales tax to go to the bottom with our property tax already at the bottom, you know, I think we can all start to see how things stack up and how services delivered by our city would have to be adjusted.”
Most of the figures and comparisons Moore used showing that Searcy would be at the bottom on city sales tax rate and is at the bottom on property tax rate compared the following cities: Jonesboro (pop. 78,576), Farmington (7,584), Jacksonville (29,477), Heber Springs (6,969), Conway (64,124), Sherwood (32,731). Maumelle (19,251), Russellville (28,940), Benton (35,014), Siloam Springs (17,287), Batesville (11,191), Bryant (20,663), Bentonville (54,164), Fayetteville (93,949) and Little Rock (202,591).
However, Moore said the larger group of 70 cities was used because the group wanted “to go broader and have a better comparison.”