By TOM HENRY
“By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” Founding Father John Dickinson in his pre-Revolutionary War song “The Liberty Song” (1768).
The Arkansas Supreme Court handed down its opinion Thursday in the Blytheville Courthouse matter. I am quite concerned about the ripple effects in our county.
I attempt to look forward at both opportunities and risks, but I can’t help but look back at what brought us to this place. I have been astounded at the rivalry. I have also been somewhat entertained by the differences between the way the sections of the county really are versus what they perceive themselves to be.
I grew up west of Big Lake, back before it was vogue to move there. I have lived and worked in Blytheville for many years and I have also worked in Osceola.
Folks, Mississippi County is shrinking and the number of people that actually pay taxes instead of just receiving entitlements is very small indeed. Times have been tough, taxes have ballooned, services have not been reduced, state and federal mandates have increased, crime has skyrocketed, educational attainment has floundered and employment has been cyclical.
The world is ever shrinking so that Blytheville is no longer “the big city” for area trade…Memphis, Cape Girardeau and Jonesboro are.
All sections of the county have seen factories close and jobs leave over the last 20 years. Our college is no longer brand spanking new…neither are the two hospitals. Also, both courthouses are crumbling.
The cities of Blytheville, Dell, Manila and Leachville have sued the county over jail fees. The City of Osceola has sued the county over the special election for a new courthouse in Blytheville. And the hits just keep on coming!
Nevertheless, I am full of hope for the county’s future, but only IF…
- We unite. We are all one family, in many cases quite literally. We fight the same struggles and face the same obstacles. We also have the same limited opportunities, but only when we consolidate our strengths and work together.
- We are honest. We must swallow our pride, stop pouting and consider our true condition. Not how we would like them to be.
- We talk. I am sick and tired of being talked at. All county visions must include the perspective of all three sections of the county. We must communicate effectively both to the voters and from the voters. No more “good ol’ boys” and no more back room planning.
- We work for a common good. Common sense tells us that if we get jobs in one city, all cities from the county benefit. The more jobs, the more business and trade (hence tax revenue and even more jobs to serve the needs of those companies). The more good jobs we get, the more homeowners and more tax revenue for schools and still even more trade follows. It is very common to work in one city, live in another and trade in a third – all within the same county. Mayor Kennemore was right when he said that we don’t compete with each other, we compete against the word.
- We grow. In many, many ways we are better than we used to be. We are more diversified economically than when I was growing up, but we still have more to do. Proof of that is when the pipe industry screeched to a halt – the whole county felt it.
But, if we don’t do all these things, there are dire consequences. I’m talking very real, ominous possibilities…no foollin’.
If we don’t work together, with all three sections pulling in the same direction we WILL…
- Lose one or both of our county hospitals. They are improving and I am very proud of them, but we all remember from whence the hospitals have come. I am hopeful though that their upward swing is just the start. Where is the money going to come from when this current tax sunsets?
- Floundering in old infrastructure. There are simply not enough taxpayers in the county to keep up with the fiscal diets of the past. And unfortunately, infrastructure is also the one that is easiest to cut, because people vote on what they see today, not so much what is to come.
To one section of the county I am here to tell you that your days of old money and unrestrained power are over. No offense, but it’s simply a different day. I still love you, but you have to move on from the days of post bellum plantation styled aristocracy and move into the world of common effort. Stop pouting and come on board. Break new ground and let’s do a few new things. The numbers are not on your side; so work the strength that you have, but don’t tick off the whole county or else you will find yourself standing against coalitions of people that will humble you at the ballot box.
There is another section of the county that needs to step up and begin to pay more and take less. The county’s fortunes rise and fall with you at this time unfortunately. That isn’t entirely fair, but life isn’t fair, I know. Get a job, pay your taxes, and go on a fiscal diet. Contribute more. Some give much, but most take more.
To the other section of the county I’d say, you’re growing up nicely (finally) and it is time for you to find a seat at the big boy table. Your numbers are beginning to get to significant levels now.
None of the three sections can stand alone. In fact, time are so tough that in many ways, even if all three sections unite, it will still be difficult…but we can compete with the world and win. Together!