Leader Blues

Friday, April 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >Council sees where county tax dollars go

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Seventy-five cents of every county tax dollar paid by Jacksonville residents goes to the county school system, according to the County Treasurer Debra Buckner.

Buckner told aldermen at Jacksonville’s City Council meeting Thursday night that she was on “a public-information mission.”

“I’m finding when I visit groups and organizations throughout the county they all want to know why we have a county treasurer and where does their tax dollar go,” Buckner said.

She said the county has eight cities, plus the unincorporated area, each with different millage rates. “The taxes are not a cookie-cutter situation,” she said.

For example, Buckner said the amount that goes to public schools varies from about 64 cents to 80 cents out of every tax dollar, depending where in the county someone lives.

In Jacksonville, she said 75.7 percent of every tax dollar goes to public schools. “I know that’s a sensitive issue in Jacksonville,” she added.

Buckner said that 5.4 percent goes to roads, 3.7 percent to the fire and police pension, 4.8 percent to the library system and 1.1 percent to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “It was the county’s indigent hospital before it became Children’s. A lot of people don’t know that,” Buckner said.

Add all that up, she said, and that leaves 9 percent of every county tax dollar from Jacksonville going to county services.

“Things like the coroner, sanitation and the county jail,” Buckner said.

Mayor Tommy Swaim added that no portion of the county tax dollar goes to Jacksonville.

She told the council that as treasurer she serves 350,000 customers. “They are not taxpayers, but customers, and we work hard on our customer service,” she said.

Buckner said she is currently pushing information on two issues: A growing number of 100 percent disabled and the Homestead Credit Act.

She said the county currently has about 2,000 veterans who are 100 percent disabled. “It’s a growing population and they are getting younger,” she said. “What they don’t often realize is that they are tax exempt. It involves a fair amount of paperwork and it’s our goal to help with the paperwork in any way possible. We want to work with these disabled veterans and their families in any way possible.”

“Yes, we are here to collect taxes, but if someone is exempt we want to exempt them,” Buckner added.

She also said more and more residents are turning 65 and the Homestead Credit Act, enacted in 2001, allows residents turning 65 to freeze the value of their homes. “This could save them quite a bit of money,” she said. The same act also gives homeowners a $350 credit on their property tax, but the residents have to ask for it and fill out some paperwork.

In other council business:

Aldermen approved to spend $47,500 for new carpeting for the community center.

The council approved a resolution supporting the parks and recreation department’s efforts to obtain a federal grant for walking trails in Stonewall Park. The city will provide a 20 percent match to whatever amount is received through the federal grant.

“This is a grant we previously applied for,” the mayor said. “We made changes to the grant proposal to correct some drainage problems,” he explained.