as published in the Blytheville Courier news on Friday, August 21, 2015
By TOM HENRY
With such a buzz going around town regarding the City Council sending a new 1 cent Sales and Use Tax to voters Tuesday evening, I feel it impossible to not weigh in. It needs to be said that I honestly like every member of the Council as well as the Mayor, personally. While I have absolutely nothing to gain from taking a position regarding the tax, as a member of the fourth estate I believe it is my responsibility to protect the citizens and explain (when I can) their leaders.
What I have seen, from watching Blytheville government, is how much “spin” and “PR” has taken the place of good, old-fashioned leadership. While perception can be as powerful as reality, it is not always true. Real leaders take on the tough issues, while politicians just paint them with a different brush. Taking on the tough issues doesn’t mean taking unpopular positions, it means making hard decisions.
The problem the city has is that it desperately needs additional revenue or to cut costs. The turnback funds from the state have shrunk, the number of taxpayers in the city’s tax base has declined by nearly 10,000, costs have risen while infrastructure and services have remained the same.
That is all true, but it is not the entire picture.
If the voters consent to the new tax passed by the Blytheville City Council when they go to the polls in October, will it fix the problem outlined above? No. You should never drive off customers in a flat or tight economy, ever. You should also never throw more good money at management problems. Fix the problem first.
We are told that the city is operating with $4.5 million dollars less revenue than in 2008 but the city has not eliminated a single service. Why not? If we can’t afford it, cut it. If we are maintaining infrastructure of a city nearly twice our current size, surely there are redundant or unnecessary things? If so, cut it.
We are told a study shows that 45-50 percent of the tax will be paid by non Blytheville Citizens that shop here. Will they continue to come and in the same numbers if we double our city’s tax or will they go to cities that offer more variety of stores at a lower tax rate? If they go, so goes tax revenue and jobs.
We have “invested in Blytheville” and yet we are not always “getting what we pay for.” Is there waste? Are there non-critical services that can be cut or reduced until we can afford them? Some of the things I am paying for doesn’t benefit me in the least bit and I have no interest in continuing. I don’t think a single family member or friend of mine plays on the golf course.
The regressive Sales and Use Tax doubles the city tax from “a low 1 percent” to 2 percent. But that of course is not the entire picture, if it was, very few people would be complaining. The problem is that it is in addition to the 2.5 percent county sales tax and the 6.5 percent state sales tax. If voters approve the tax when they vote in the Special Election on Oct. 20, the combined Sales and Use Tax paid for retail purchases in the city of Blytheville will be 11 percent.
That means for a $25,000 car, $2,750 is added in taxes alone to the cost; an $800 computer adds $88; a $600 mattress adds $66; a $45 dollar steak dinner adds $4.95; and a $20 book adds $2.20. Those are not just pennies, those are real dollars that most Blytheville citizens find difficult to come by. These are not just the occasional transaction, these are every time that we spend money in town. If you spend just $100 in retail locally each week that means that you are going to pay $572 in taxes or an additional $52 more than last year.
We are told that it will be a permanent tax and that the funds will not be earmarked for anything specific, but rather will be put into general funds. That sounds a lot like trying to budget your personal finances or your business expenses all out of one big miscellaneous fund.
There are services that can be cut. There are areas that can be trimmed. Our employees can be forced to do there job well and work all the hours they are paid for, if they quit, great. We have high unemployment and we can hire someone else. We do pay too much at the department head level. We do need to tighten spending on cell phones, city cars, gasoline, etcetera.
We simply can’t do all things for all people. We are in a position where we truly need to prioritize what we can do and do them well. Eliminate what we can’t do and “cut bait” until the day that we are prospering enough to pay for them. Families and businesses do that. When times get tough, we simply can’t do all we want to do.
Amendment 5 and our police department needing raises are true facts of life. But cut until it hurts and then cut some more. Make the hard decisions that need to be made to ensure the survival and success of our city, regardless of the popularity of the decision. Don’t talk about building a convention center and maintain a civic center (Ritz) that just needs repairs. Fix the Ritz and don’t duplicate services.
Make decisions that stimulate business, never make decisions just to perpetuate the government apparatus. When businesses succeed the community thrives, people are employed, people buying more things (more tax revenue), people move into town for the jobs (larger tax base), people volunteer, crime lowers and those extras can be returned. Above all, be more transparent and talk to the people.