Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

TOP STORY >>Ward could seek ’08 sales tax vote

Leader staff writer

Ward city officials are considering asking voters for a sales tax increase in November 2008 to help pay for city services.

Several members of the city council and the mayor met Wednesday afternoon to begin talking about raising the city sales tax. A second meeting will be held Monday following the regular city council meeting.

Alderman Ginger Tarno said the “homework” of the five who attended the Wednesday meeting was to decide how much the tax should be increased and how it would be spent. But her first statement as the meeting began was almost a showstopper.
“I’m not for taxes,” she said. “I know we’ve lost some from the grocery tax (which is now 3 percent instead of 6 percent) but I don’t see putting it back on the people. We’re 74 percent low income.”

Alderman Marrice Jackson disagreed. “How do you think we’re ever going to get anywhere if we don’t?” he asked Tarno. Two or three dollars a week, is there anyone who can’t afford that?”

Alderman Don Howard, chairman of the committee, pointed out that Ward doesn’t have a grocery store, only a couple of businesses that sell grocery items in addition to other products.

“I would think anybody worrying about how much they spend on groceries would go to Beebe or Cabot,” Howard said.

Ward currently collects about $3,200 a month from a one-cent tax that is divided between the police department and the fire department.

If voters approve a second one-cent tax, that amount would more than double, because two new businesses are moving in, a pizza restaurant and a Subway.

Although the group discussed possibly asking for a two-cent tax, they agreed that Ward residents might not pass one cent, so asking for two would almost certainly fail.

“I think all taxes are evil myself, but you can’t live without them,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to have animal control and we’ve got to have police protection.”

If the council decides to ask voters for a tax and if it is approved, the money could be distributed among police, fire, streets, animal control, parks and code enforcement. Who would get how much will be discussed during the next committee meeting.
Mayor Art Brooke told the council members that the city general fund contributes only $9,000 a year to parks and recreation.
Jackson said police and animal control need to be a priority.

“I’ve talked to several people and they do want more police protection and they do want these dogs off the street,” he said.
Even though city councils have the authority to levy a special prepared food tax (hamburger tax) without taking it to the voters, all those present for the committee meeting said they were opposed to doing so.

They also were opposed to holding a special election in part because of low voter turnout but also because they said a special election would cost $5,000 to $6,000, about twice the amount the existing tax brings in every month.