Team Jonesboro representatives make the case for sales tax ordinance

May 30, 2019

Team Jonesboro logo
Credit Team Jonesboro

Team Jonesboro has been all over the news lately.

The group has been working for two years to develop a plan to make a city a better place.  Their plan was officially unveiled at a Jonesboro city council meeting; calling for two ordinances.

The first ordinance creates a 1% sales tax that will sunset after 12 years.  The expected $216 million revenue from the sales tax goes to support two areas.  The first area is for the city's first responders--specifically the police and fire departments.

Another area the tax revenue goes toward is building new quality of life projects, such as parks, trails, and museums.  Managment of quality of life funding is discussed in the second ordinance, which establishes a 9 member oversight committee.  Two members would be from the council and the remaining seven would represent the community.

At the Finance Committee meeting of the Jonesboro City Council on Tuesday, members agreed to send both ordinances to the full council.  The council is expected to meet in the council chambers of the Jonesboro Municipal Building on Tuesday, June 4 at 5:30 pm.

KASU's Brandon Tabor spoke with Team Jonesboro members Brian Richardson and Jerry Morgan about the ordinances.

--TRANSCRIPT--

BRANDON TABOR, HOST:

Team Jonesboro has been all over the news lately. The group has been working for two years to come up with a plan to make the city a better place--A 1% sales tax that will fund the city's First Responders and certain quality of life projects and the project will be guided by an oversight committee. The plan has garnered support for many in the community and has turned into a Grassroots movement.  Joining me in the studio are members of Team Jonesboro.  I've got, Brian Richardson. Say "hi." 

BRIAN RICHARDSON:  Hey!

TABOR:  Okay and also Jerry Morgan.

JERRY MORGAN:  Hello. How are you doing? 

TABOR:  All right. Thank you both for joining me here in the studio today. How did Team Jonesboro start?

RICHARDSON: I'd say it started with a conversation. It started with people from the community coming back and talking about what they did that weekend or whether children wanted to go, you know on the upcoming holiday weekends and, you know, how we as a city and as a community can help offer some of those amenities here and what we can do as citizens to actually make these thoughts and hopes and dreams a reality.

MORGAN: I would add to that, a couple years ago with my involvement on the A&P, advertising promotions commission, we started talking about projects that we were unable to find and again this this initiative is totally separate from the Jonesboro A&P commission, but we have over a million dollars in request from over 30 organizations, and we just do not have the funding for projects in Jonesboro. And so we start talking, 'what do we need to do to make Jonesboro the best Jonesboro can be?' There's a lot of projects that are sitting on the shelf at city hall and, it's not because of a lack of effort on their part, it's a lack of funding.  You see several other cities---and again, we're not trying to compare ourselves to any other city. We want to be Jonesboro the best it can be. You've got other cities though, like Batesville has done a tax Initiative for an aquatic center.  Paragould, we all know about that one.  That was done over 10 years ago. El Dorado has done over a hundred million dollars in tax incentives for their downtown arts and entertainment district. Pine Bluff just passed a $30 million tax initiative to basically rebuild their downtown area. So this is not outside the box thinking.  What we're trying to do is just take the best ideas and use them for Jonesboro and come up with projects that we want the citizens to be able to see that we can make this community better, so our children don't want to leave when they graduate college.

TABOR: Now, the oversight committee.  There's 2 people from the County Council, right? And then the rest are appointed by the mayor.  Is that right?

MORGAN: They would be appointed and approved by the mayor and city council and it will be public input from the public on who would go on those.  We haven't developed that yet, but they're probably an application process to submit applications on who wants to serve on this committee. And I think the important factor is that this committee gets seated before the election, which it will, and people will see the people that are on this committee and see that it's a broad representation of all of Jonesboro. Just not a select few.

TABOR: Okay. Have you guys seen any other community do anything like this before?

RICHARDSON: Across the state, and really across the country, you're seeing a lot more of these citizen-led or bottom-up affair type initiatives. For instance, in 2017, the most direct example I can think of was the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative in which that was a group of citizens [who] took and wrote ballot language [and] took it to the city council for approval and created an oversight committee to help manage these funds.  Because, the simple fact is that, fair or not fair, the trust and local government is not as strong as it once was and voters and members of the community, they want to see a movement or citizens-led initiative to build the type of things that we would like to have. I mean, some things just creates a way for people to get involved and for these type of funds to be available.  And, you know, we just felt like this is the best way to make this dream a reality.

TABOR: I found a study from the Tax Foundation. It said that Arkansas had the third highest sales tax rate in the country. And then, of course, Craighead County---they have their own 1% sales tax. So, what do you say to people who see Jonesboro's low sales tax as a benefit?  Not just for the people who live here, but also for the people who do live in Tennessee or live elsewhere that has a higher sales tax and sees Jonesboro's lower sales tax as a benefit for the reason for them coming here in the first place.

RICHARDSON: Well, I think one thing that's important to point out is it's not necessarily comparing Apples to Apples when you talk about the type of government funding that one state or one municipality or one area of the country has versus the other because some places may have a lower sales tax, but they have a higher property tax. Some states don't charge a state income tax. So, on a more micro-level with Jonesboro, it's not all that super expensive to live in Jonesboro. We have low sales tax. We have the lowest comparable sales tax in the state. We don't charge sanitation fees.  There is no prepared food tax fees. You know, I think that this has created an environment that's conducive to people want to live here because it's relatively cheap to live here compared to other areas in the state and in the country, but that being said.  Complacency will not move our city forward.  You know, I think that we have to make a decision on if we want to grow Jonesboro then take it in a positive direction or sit back and just hope the chips will fall in a way that will stay on the same level playing. I don't think that's an option. I think that I think that we have to decide if we want to grow or if we want to stay complacent and let the rest of the state and the country, kind of, pass us by, by not keeping up with the trends that a 21st century economy demands.

TABOR: Craighead Forest Park has already been upgraded significantly since I've been here--a lot. You know, we do have the Greenway Trail that has been built. We've got a whole bunch of other different venues already here in Jonesboro. Why should we invest in something new if we're not already and you know, embracing what we already got?

RICHARDSON: If you drove out to Craighead Forest Park right now, you would see a lot of support for it. The usage of Craighead Forest Park has exploded phenomenally and that's in no small part to some very, very strong and quality investments and smart decisions by the city, and by matching grants to help build that park into, really, a showpiece for what municipal investment can be, you know.  Imagine an attraction similar could park in North Jonesboro or in West Jonesboro. Think about what that could do for that Community, you know.  I think that the public support for these amenities will be very strong. Just think about during the week Jonesboro has a 100% hotel occupancy rate.  On the weekends, that falls to 50%.  Off the top of my head, I don't know how many hotel rooms that is, but that's a lot of revenue that we are missing out on and, you know, I think that the public demand that's created by these projects will not only show that they are definitely supported, but they are a huge benefit to the city across the board.

TABOR: How can somebody be a part of Team Jonesboro to help advocate for this movement?

RICHARDSON: Send us a message on Facebook, you know.  Get on our website and we've got a get involved section on the website; fill that out. It’s got a comment section. Let us know what you think. If you see one of us hundreds of Team Jonesboro people walking down the street and you want to get involved, grab him on the arm, you know, say 'hey, I'm on team Jonesboro.  Tell me what to do.' and they'll get you involved.  This movement--and that's what it is. It is a movement--It's accepting and willing.  Bring your ideas to the table and let's have this discussion.

MORGAN: Also, like we talked about, we started this two years ago. We listened to a lot of people. We received a lot of criticism--a lot of feedback--and we feel very confident that we've written the ordinances with transparency in committee approval that, in the sunset, that we feel like we've covered all bases, as far as getting people to trust us on this.  We understand a tax by nature is not popular. We've got to earn people's trust. We want people's trust.  We will speak to any group at any time. They can reach us on Facebook Messenger at any time. Also, I mean again, we're citizens were volunteering to make Jonesboro better. We're not politicians running for office. I'm not.  I'm not planning on running for public office, period.  This is a citizens-led group, because we feel like it's the best for Jonesboro. We want their input. We want their feedback.  If they have a criticism, reach out.  Call me. Hit me up on Facebook Messenger: [Team Jonesboro Chairman] Scott [McDaniel], Brian---all of us. We understand this will be critiqued by nature.  Any tax is.  But, we want your feedback and at the end of the day, we just ask that you listen to it and vote your conscience, and we would hope you'd support Team Jonesboro.

TABOR: Brian Richardson. Jerry Morgan with Team Jonesboro. Thank you so much for coming in and talking with me today. 

RICHARDSON: Thank you. 

TABOR: And we will also have links to the ordinances and links to you guys website on our website, KASU.org.

ORDINACE TO ESTABLISH AN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:

ORDINANCE TO LEVY A 1% SALES TAX