Team Jonesboro continues pushing sales tax despite growing opposition

Sep 4, 2019

Credit Team Jonesboro

Members of Team Jonesboro have been visiting various organizations and conducting town hall meeting to promote passage of a 1% sales tax.

Residients in Jonesboro begain early voting yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) in a special election on the proposal created by Team Jonesboro.  The proposal establishes a 1% sales tax increase that will sunset after 12 years.

Revenue generated from the tax during the time gets split into two categories:  first responders (police and fire departments) and new quality of life projects.  Since the City Council approved having a special election, some people have come out in opposition to the tax.

--CLICK HERE TO SEE EARLY VOTE TOTALS AND MORE COVERAGE ON THE SALE TAX--

A group called "Citizens Taxed Enough" has been created in opposition to the tax.  As of this story, the group has yet to repond to KASU News' request for comment.

Alderman Bobby Long, who's been an outspoken opponent to the sales tax initiative, also took to social media to post an alternative sales tax proposal in case the Team Jonesboro proposal was defeated.  KASU News has not independently verified the merit of his proposal.

KASU News' Brandon Tabor sat down and spoke with Scott McDaniel of Team Jonesboro about the group's campaign leading up to the special election, as well as the most recent opposition.

Ealry voting for the special election will run through Monday, September 9.  Polls are open from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M at the Craighead County Election Annex in Jonesboro and the Lake City Courthouse.  The special election will be conducted on Tuesday, September 10.

---TRANSCRIPT---

BRANDON TABOR, HOST:

Members of Team Jonesboro have been out and about around the city promoting their proposal for a one cent sales tax. Much has changed since the group first proposed the tax including the creation of the Oversight Integrity Council and an opposition group encouraging voters to say no to the tax. In the studio with me, I have Scott McDaniel of Team Jonesboro to talk more about their push supporting the proposal. Thank you for joining me in here today.

SCOTT MCDANIEL: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here right now.

TABOR: All right, so your group have been out and about to build support for the tax and you've had multiple Town Hall meetings to pass information about the tax on the voters. What has been some of your greatest concerns that you've heard from voters since you guys have been doing the town halls?

MCDANIEL: Well, you know most people just have legitimate questions. They want to understand, you know, the voters they have a right to know what they're voting on, a right, and I appreciate the people that have shown up and ask questions. Every time we go talk we gain supporters. The number of times we've gone to groups that started out opposition and then by the time you're done with them, they support it because when you hear the whole story, you know, you really are either okay with the way things are and the way things are going or you buy into the idea that that we're at a Crossroads and so, you know, most folks when they really start thinking about it, they tend to agree with us.

TABOR: I know that some members of Team Jonesboro have been to one of the groups that I'm in.  There was one of my members who was concerned about the water park.  That has been one of the biggest concerns that, not only he has had, but a lot of other people have had surrounding the water park. So you might want to kind of…

MCDANIEL: Well, so the water park is a private thing. It has nothing to do with Team Jonesboro or the city. I think that a lot of people were confused by that press conference, you know, we funded- the ordinance that we wrote funds categories and it funds a process. And anybody in the community is welcome to pitch a project idea. And now that project idea may or may not grow legs and may or may not have support and may or may not be a good idea. This was just a project idea that somebody community had and you know, so it's not anything to do with us really, it's just it's just an idea that was in the community.

TABOR: Okay, and speaking of some of those project proposals, you know, the Integrity Oversight Council, which Team Jonesboro has spearheaded in creating---they've recently heard a couple of proposals. Have you heard of some of those proposals and what have been some of your thoughts?

MCDANIEL: Well, so, first of all, the Oversight Integrity Council exists separate and apart from the ordinance regarding the tax. Right now, if you wanted a park in your neighborhood, there's really no mechanism to get that park. There's no process. There's no anything. If you want one, you're just going to have to start rattling cages until somebody tells you to go away you get a park. We don't like that idea. We think the people of Jonesboro need a direct voice and that's what that Oversight Council is for and that's why they met. So regardless of the sales tax, you know, the Oversight Council will continue to exist in perpetuity unless the City Council ill-advisedly decides to disband it. We believe that the community needs a direct link to people in government and that's what the Oversight Council is for. So they had their first meeting to just kind of have an idea of what is out there. And, what is out there, that means there's stuff that's needed in North Jonesboro. There is stuff that the Hispanic Center is interested in. You have the library that needs projects. And so all those are exciting and that's the whole idea is to get people engaged! To get people to show up, to get people to talk about the projects that they need and I mean you even had somebody who, I don't know if he was opposition, he certainly was skeptical.  I forget the guys name.  But, he was out there pitching pocket parks and splash pads and wards. The city needs to hear that and now they can regardless of this tax. There is now a committee in place that is designed to do nothing else other than hear project proposals and vet them and then make recommendations to City Council for future funding. And so that's going to change. Right now the way our city handles quite a lot of projects could because they're short funded. It’s grant driven. The grants come from the top down, but now they'll be able to come from the bottom up. So I'm very proud that they've met, I'm very very proud of the folks who have made their pitches and I encourage others to do the same.

TABOR: Okay and real quickly, if the tax doesn't pass, the Integrity Oversight Committee will continue to operate and just be that body to approve projects that come to the city?

MCDANIEL:Right, right. What the city currently funds right now, well, how does that funding happen? You know, who do they consult, right? I mean, how did they decide what goes where you know? And now there's an answer to that question. It is going to come from the people. The people will go before the Oversight Council, tell the council what they need, what they want. The council will make recommendations to the City Council. And so now you have a process that is driven by the people. The people have a voice and that's what we wanted.

TABOR: Okay. Now, there have been some concerns about the wording of the tax as sometimes you might have heard that is being referred to as the one cent tax. Then some others have heard it being referred to as the 1% tax. Which one is correct?

MCDANIEL: Well, you know, the absolute technical term is 1%, right? Where the one cent comes from is because it's 1%. It's one penny on a dollar and so that's kind of just a slang way to say it and they're interchangeable with in the language but it is a 1% sales tax increase.

TABOR: okay. Alright, now since you guys have been advocating for the tax, there's been an opposition group has been formed called “Citizen's Taxed Enough”. Do you have any comments about the group?

MCDANIEL: Well, look, I'm not gonna say anything negative about anybody, you know, everybody has a right to their opinion. I will only say that if you look at them, just ask yourself where they've been on other issues in the past and who makes up these folks, I mean they believe in what they're doing. I commend them for that but they are typically people that are against things, not for things and they typically have, and this case is a perfect example, plenty of complaints with our solution, but they have no real alternative solution and you know, we are somebody, if you want to look at compare and contrast, what we're doing is we see a problem, and we're trying to fix it.

TABOR: All right. So let's say that the sales tax passes. What happens after the tax? It sunsets after the twelve years and there is no more revenue coming in. Could we possibly see Team Jonesboro coming back and trying to push to make the tax permanent?

MCDANIEL: You know, that's not on the radar screen. We believe that a temporary protected sales tax steered towards very specific project categories over a 12-year period will be enough to grow the tax base to spur different types of development, to help retain the best and the brightest, to where, you know, we would think of in the 12 years, you know, the development that we produce from this tax will certainly let us get by with going back to our normal tax. You know, it's an injection of capital that is earmarked towards quite a lot of projects which in turn creates development.

TABOR: You might have been aware of Alderman Bobby Long who has written a competing proposal just in case the tax were to fail. This calls for a quarter of a percent increase to fund the police and fire departments. What have been your thoughts about that proposal?

MCDANIEL: Well again, I don't want to be negative here. I've said this and I will continue to say this. I did find that proposal timing very curious, you know.  He's been on that Council since way in 2016.  This problem with police and fire funding has been known for a long time. He hasn't done anything to solve it, ever. Never made a proposal. Never made even an ordinance. Nothing. You know, we presented our thing in May, I believe. He never made any kind of amendments, never made a motion or anything like that, and then right at the 11th hour he's going to come in and save the day. Well, I can't help but wonder: is that what his real intent is or is intent to confuse voters? Right? And that's again just a question regarding the specific nature of his ordinance. I mean it's going to take him 24 years to raise the same amount of money for police and fire that I’m gonna raise in 12. He didn't consult with our police chief regarding their needs. I think that's a story that's in one of the online publications and the NEA Report stated as much. I think Jonesboro Sun converted that, I think---I don't want to mislead anybody, but regardless, he didn't consult with them. He has no idea what their immediate needs are. If he would have, he would have known that they need a half cent right now because they have some immediate fire station needs. They have some immediate needs regarding police stations, police communication equipment all that kind of stuff. I mean, they need more money up front than they will need in the long run. The other thing too is his ordinance, he put some kind of like, some “suicide language” in there that basically makes the tax expire if something happens regarding the budget and, you know, he didn't consult with a lawyer about that, I don't believe, because he's since backtracked on that and stated that that’s an illegal ordinance or language doesn't work. So everything, you know, and even if it did, it wouldn't make it to our bonding, getting a bond or a loan or whatever to expedite some of these projects would be completely impossible. So long story short is, what you have with that ordinance is it just smells half-baked. Because how can you make a mistake that big without consulting a lawyer? You know, if you didn’t consult a lawyer, how much time did you really put into it? So again to me that echoes back to his intent. He's been pretty vocal regarding being opposed to this which is fine. I just personally disagree with the tactic of confusing voters at the stake of police and fire protection all take a step further and say, you know, even if everything was above board, right, he wants to do this in November and in November of 2020, right? So what that means is that the police wouldn't see funding for quite some time.

TABOR: Okay. Scott McDaniel is with Team Jonesboro who are advocating for a one cent sales tax. Thank you for joining me.

MCDANIEL:  Thank you very much.

TABOR: KASU News has reached out to Citizens Taxed Enough for comment. They have yet to reply to our request. Early voting is currently underway. Election day for the tax is set for Tuesday, September 10th. More details on the proposal can be found on our website KASU.org. In Jonesboro, I'm Brandon Tabor, KASU News.