The first day Team Jonesboro's ordinances were introduced in the Finance Committee of the Jonesboro City Council, the proposals received both tremendous support and opposition.
One of the voices of opposition was a colleague of the committee, Alderman Bobby Long. Long voiced his concerns of the ordinances to establish an oversight committee to look over and prioritize spending for new projects to improve Jonesboro's quality of life, and to call a special election for voters to decide if they want to pass a 1% sales tax.
The sales tax would sunset after 12 years and the revenue from the tax would be split into 2 halves. The first half would help bring additional funding to the city's fire and police departments. The second half would go toward creating quality of life project that the aforementioned oversight committee would look after.
After the Finance Committee voted to pass the ordinances to the full city council, Long did not stop. At the full council meeting, he continued to be a voice of opposition to the ordinances.
As the ordinances get ready for it's second of three required public readings, Long spoke to KASU News' Brandon Tabor about his concerns and what alternative solutions he has for bringing new industries to Jonesboro.
BRANDON TABOR, HOST:
Citizen-led ordinances written by Team Jonesboro has passed a city council committee and have gone through its first of three readings in front of the full Council. When the ordinances were first presented to apply a 1% sales tax for quality of life and First Responders funding and to create an oversight committee for quality of life projects Alderman Bobby Long expressed concerns about the proposals. He joins me over the phone to express his feelings of the ordinances. Thank you for your time Alderman.
BOBBY LONG: Thank you for having me on
TABOR: What were some of your concerns that you had about the ordinances?
LONG: Well, first of all any time that you're looking at raising taxes on the electorate or any body of people, I think one of the most important things is to determine is what will it go for and how will it be used and whether or not it's enough, too much, or just right. I think the council has an obligation to ask questions about how was the one percent determined or derived. What type of projects were they looking at when they derived it? Because, Mr. [Scott] McDaniel [, chairman of Team Jonesboro] said that he feels that this one percent tax on will pay for everything that is needed. So my question is, what was he looking at when he derived that 1%? How does he know that half-a-percent is going to purchase all the amenities that they've listed out? Another thing was, I just wanted a little bit more clarification on how the committee was going to relate to the city, or who's going to be on the committee? Who's going to approve reasonable expenses? How many different projects can be vetted at one time? And you know, I was also concerned that one of the main thrust of it is that quality of life and Public Safety go hand in hand. Therefore, they should not be separated. One of my proposals was if we really want to get a true picture of what the people want, then split the ordinance up. Keep everything the same. Half for fire and police. Half for the amenities. Make it two separate ordinances instead of one, that way the people have the option of voting for one, the other, both, or neither. I think that you just get a more honest and clearer picture of what the people want if you did it that way. So, those were some of my concerns and some of the things that I just wanted answered, you know, before we push this onto the people on a special election, in which there's probably going to be very very little voter turnout. Normally special elections have less than 20% [voter turnout], but they cost the taxpayer several thousand dollars to have. So in essence, what were actually doing is saying we're going to use the taxpayer dime in order to try and get the taxpayer dime. And also, there's absolutely no guarantee that this is not going to be a shell game. What I mean by that is, for instance now, let's say that it passes. And now the fire department budget has an influx of money that's available for them for construction and maintenance and repair and things like that. Well, what's to say that once this money starts coming in then, all of a sudden, the fire department budget starts reducing, or starts getting reduced, and that money is now going into other places? So there's nothing in there that would say that that wouldn't happen.
TABOR: Kind of getting into a little bit of what you said in your statement to the finance committee. One of the recommendations that you said was that we don't need more stuff. We need to bring more jobs. So what can the city do to bring in more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs?
LONG: One of the ways that we can do is just make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can if we're not sitting back waiting on industry to come to us for proposal. We're going out and we're actively soliciting those STEM jobs in those areas, if that's the way that we want to go. Right now, Jonesboro, I believe, is diverse and the fact that we have---look at our seal. Our seal has education. We've got great public schools and we've got a Division 1 University. Agriculture. You can look around and just see the thriving agriculture that we have. We have manufacturing, you know, we have a great industrial park that's growing every year. And, we have a medical community. We have two fine hospitals in our area along with a great support system of ancillary positions and specialties. So someone could come in to Jonesboro and, regardless of what their specialty is and regardless of what their trade is, you can find a job in Jonesboro. So, I take it that we have a lot to offer these industries. I think it's a matter of making sure that we go out and have a plan to go out. Not only just wait for them to look at Jonesboro, but we go out and put Jonesboro in front of them and solicit them
TABOR: Somebody from Team Jonesboro would probably argue that in order for these factories and these new industries to come in[to the city], these stem industries to come in, they are looking for quality of life projects like some parks and some trails and all of those kind of things. Do you see that there's a quality of life problem in Jonesboro?
LONG: Well, I guess that's the definition of "quality of life." If you're a biker, then "quality of life" means more bike trails. If you're a hiker, then "quality of life" means mountains in order to hike. If you're a painter, then I don't know what you would do as a painter, but I think it just it all depends on your hobbies that you engage in. But here's the one thing that is consistent with quality of life: Am I safe enough home and in my property, are my kids safe at school, do I have access to gainful employment and healthcare, and can I get around relatively easy? Other than that, those are things that are consistent with "quality of life" regardless. So, yeah, that would be my take on that. I don't know. I think "quality of life" is different for every individual.
TABOR: Bobby Long is an alderman with the Jonesboro City Council. Thank you so much for speaking with me today.
LONG: You're very welcome. You have a nice day.